Monday, March 26, 2012

Stand Your Ground Laws and the Return to the State of Nature

In light of the Trayvon Martin killings, a spotlight has been cast onto so-called stand your ground laws. The idea is that you cannot be convicted of murder if you kill someone with the belief that your life was endangered by the victim. Whether you were or were not actually under mortal threat is irrelevant; as long as you believed your life was threatened, you are legally permitted to kill the person you believed threatened your existence. This is the line that the lawyer for George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin's killer, has been arguing. Zimmerman believed himself to be in mortal danger, so even though he was pursuing Martin and not fleeing from him, his state of mind was sufficient to take murder charges off the table.

What would be the result of this line of reasoning? Are we legislating a return to Thomas Hobbes' state of nature which is, as he argues, a state of war of each against all others in which life is solitary, nasty, brutish, and short? On the one hand, you have as this article from Forbes calls it, a license of kill young black men. but that only makes it more complicated and bizarre. For example:

Premise 1 -- There is a legacy of bigotry from white Christian majorities in many states for which legal remedies remain in place.

Texas, for example, is just one state in which all redistricting plans must receive the approval of federal judges because there is a continuing history of racial bias. There are a number of other such requirements that show that bias against minorities of all different sorts remains a rational belief for minority members in those states.  

Premise 2 -- There is a longstanding history of bias being connected to injury and death of minority members

From slavery and lynching to the murders of Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard, James Byrd,Jr. and Trayvon Martin, we have many examples where white Christian men have killed Americans who were different in one way or another just for being different.

 Premise 3 -- Many, if not most, of these states now have conceal carry laws

The gun culture of these states have given rise to laws wherein concealed weapons permits are easy to obtain. When you see a white, male, Christian you cannot know if he is armed with a deadly weapon.

Conclusion 1 -- All white, Christian men are potential lethal threats at all times to Americans from all minority groups.

If there is a legacy of hatred towards minorities and that hatred at times results in killings and if you cannot know whether any given white, Christian male is packing a gun, then every white Christian male is a walking potential deadly threat to every American from every minority group whom the person comes across.  

Premise 4 -- Stand your ground laws allow one to legitimately kill those whom you believe pose a deadly threat to you.

This is the point of these laws.  

Conclusion -- If you are a member of any minority group, you have grounds to kill any random white, Christian guy you see on the street before he gets you.

If it is rational that all white, Christian males thus pose a potential deadly threat to all members of t all minorities, then they are legally permitted to kill them, no?

 So, why is this absurdity still absurd given the stand your grounds laws? Is this a legitimate reductio or is there a flaw in the argument?  does it work without the legacy of bigotry to a more general conclusion that would allow any to kill anyone else as a potential threat?