A number of people have spent the day today pointing out that George Zimmerman’s defense did not hinge on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law but instead on a standard argument of self-defense.
This is certainly true.
But it’s also missing what I take to be a critically important point about the chain of events that led to the death of Trayvon Martin, namely that George Zimmerman’s actions that night — and the confrontation that led to the shooting — were precipitated by Florida’s peculiar Stand Your Ground law. That’s why I’ve been talking about Florida’s distinctly terrible laws.
To be specific, a law like the one in place in Florida leads inexorably to vigilantes like Zimmerman, who ride around their neighborhoods in the hopes of finding someone who looks suspicious enough to confront. The law tells Zimmerman that he can stalk Martin at night, he can put himself in a situation that might lead to a confrontation, and that — if such a confrontation should ensure — he can pull his gun and take a shot without having to do a whole lot of explaining. He can act as an aggressor and still be entirely within his rights when he shoots someone he deems also to be an aggressor or when he finds himself on the losing end of a confrontation that he initiates.
In other words, Zimmerman’s defense team didn’t have to appeal to the Stand Your Ground law in order to clear him of the murder charge — mostly because the other key witness to the events had been shot to death. The innocent guy, at the end of the night, is the guy who had more firepower, had no compunction about using it, and therefore didn’t end up dead.
But make no mistake that a confrontation occured that night in Florida — and Martin was shot and killed — because Zimmerman knew his rights under that Stand Your Ground law and thereby felt empowered to cruise around like a vigilante, looking for a bad guy and an excuse to wave his gun around.
[For different takes on the use of the Stand Your Ground defense, or lack thereof, in the trial, see here, here, here, and here.]