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In Theory: Where do you stand on 'stand your ground'?

August 10, 2013
  • Children and adults marched from Villa Parke Community Center to Jackie Robinson Park during Cesar Chavez Peace Rally in Pasadena on Saturday, March 31, 2012. The rally also honored slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla. in February 2012.
Children and adults marched from Villa Parke Community… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

In February 2012, teenager Trayvon Martin was shot dead by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla. Last month, Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and freed.

The circumstances of the shooting caused an uproar. Martin was an unarmed 17-year-old black youth who was shot by Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed-race Hispanic who was a neighborhood watch coordinator, after Zimmerman believed him to be acting suspiciously. After calling the police, who advised Zimmerman to wait until officers arrived, he and Martin got into a scuffle and the latter was killed.

Florida has a "stand your ground" law, which allows the use of force if a person fears they will be killed or badly injured. Most states have self-defense laws, but the Florida "stand your ground" law is different in that the person under threat does not have to retreat or warn their attacker before using deadly force.

Q: Although Zimmerman's defense team didn't use the "stand your ground" law at the trial, what's your take on these laws? Are they reasonable or is there a possibility that they'll lead to more such deaths?

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In Scripture God distinguishes between murder (when one person intentionally kills another) and manslaughter (unintentional killing). Killing in the course of national warfare is treated separately from the issue of one person killing another and is justified — when the warfare is just.

When a murderer has been justly tried and convicted, Scripture calls for the death penalty. The justification for this is given in Genesis 9:6: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man." Even when the killing was proven to be manslaughter and not murder there were consequences. The manslayer was forced to move to one of six cities of refuge until the death of the current high priest.

In Scripture the heart of the issue is intention. I believe this should apply to circumstances of killing today and should inform cases involving the "stand your ground" principle. If the death of the attacker was accidental, there should be no punishment. The attacker instigated the violence and the victim had to defend himself. However, if the death of the attacker was intentional and avoidable, then the victim murdered him. "Stand your ground" laws rightly allow a person to defend himself, but without restraint they can possibly cause deaths that could have been avoided.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
Burbank

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