The national media has been focusing its attention on the fatal shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin by a man who claimed self-defense. While many of the facts are disputed and the shooter has not yet been charged, much of the debate has surrounded “stand your ground” laws that may protect the shooter from criminal liability.
State self-defense laws grew out of the “castle doctrine,” the legal right to use force in response to a threat of bodily harm. North Carolina expanded its castle doctrine law last year to protect people from criminal and civil penalties if they use guns to defend their homes, cars and workplaces. North Carolina also added a number of public places, including state parks and rest areas, where a person (with a permit) may “conceal and carry” a firearm.
Similar legislation throughout the region has come under attack since Martin was killed. While most gun rights advocates believe that use of force is justified in situations where people feel threatened, they also acknowledge that the law carries risks.
In North Carolina, drafters say that the law has built-in safeguards that would prevent a case like Martin’s. For example, the law will not shield someone who provokes the use of force against himself. The law does not protect a shooter if the potential assailant has “discontinued all efforts to unlawfully enter the home, motor vehicle, or workplace.” In Martin’s case, the shooter reportedly pursued the alleged aggressor.
While the Department of Justice and the FBI investigate the Martin case, debate continues in state houses and at dinner tables around the country. Included in those discussions is the question of whether the crime was racially motivated. The victim’s parents, civil rights activists and the community are speaking out in the hope that the shooter is charged and prosecuted. Supporters of the stand-your-ground laws believe that deadly force is justified in specific instances, but they also believe that people who act outside of the law should be prosecuted.
Source: Charlotte Observer, “Trayvon Martin case puts N.C. self-defense law in spotlight,” Gary L. Wright, March 24, 2012