Vigilante justice, the law, and the jury

Some of the nation’s backers of the “Stand Your Ground Law,” under which a Florida man has so far escaped prosecution, appear to be rewriting history.

George Zimmerman, 28, apparently shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to death last month after pursuing him and then claiming self defense.

The law, a version of which was vetoed last month by Gov. Mark Dayton in Minnesota, expands the “castle doctrine” in matters of self defense.

Zimmerman was warned by a 911 operator not to pursue Martin, who was unarmed.

Florida Sen. Durrel Peaden, who wrote the law in the state, says Zimmerman shouldn’t be protected by the law because he ignored police advice to stay away. “They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid,” Peaden tells the Miami Herald. “He has no protection under my law.”

Florida’s expanded Castle Doctrine law passed in 2005. Two years later, the nationwide effort — partly motivated by Florida’s law — found a hero in Joe Horn.

In Pasadena, Texas,. Horn chased down burglars of his neighbor’s house, and shot them to death. A grand jury refused to indict him, Horn was hailed as a hero, and — as Time magazine reported — it was considered a victory for the expanded Castle Doctrine.

“If the Castle Doctrine were interpreted with the kind of sobriety and restraint espoused by my instructor (and responsible gun owners), it would be a good law,” Nathan Thornburgh wrote. “But by celebrating its most overreaching interpretations, those who make a hero out of Joe Horn will ultimately only succeed in ensuring that it isn’t.”

Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies, notes that two shootings per week occurred under the law by 2009.


In Texas in 2007, Joe Horn also claimed that “he was afraid for his life” in justifying his fatal shooting. But like the Martin case, the 911 tapes are damning in showing that Horn’s life clearly was never at risk — he, like Zimmerman, pursued the supposed burglars, even though they weren’t even on his own property.

But Horn apparently knew the law offered him no protection for his actions. It didn’t need to. He had a grand jury to do that.

  • kurt nelson

    The problem with this so-called expansion of the Castle Doctrine, is that your car is not your castle, nor is a tent, or garage. For those strict constitutionalists, the historical meaning of castle, meant just one thing, your home. The other overlooked part of original castle doctrine is retreat. You were only allowed to use force after you have retreated as far as possible. These expansions remove this critical original meaning as a means to make it more palatable, but as we now see in Florida retreat is not part of the law.

    Last summer in south mpls, a man witnessed, but was not ever in danger, a mugging of a women. As she lay bleeding in the street, the witness gave chase rather than stay and attend to her wounds. As a carry permit holder, it appears that in his mind, this gave him the power of judge, jury and executioner. He was never charged with any crime, even though he murdered another person in cold blood. And this before the crazy notion to expand our own states castle doctrine was vetoed by the Governor.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Kurt Nelson -

    For better and worse, some of us don’t know the meaning of “retreat” – be it due to training, testosterone, or some combination therein.

    I would personally never carry a firearm in civilian life expressly for that reason.

    While I may be wrong, it was my understanding that the individual you mention first stopped to be sure that the woman who had been attacked was out of danger before he gave pursuit.

    Had the armed and dangerous assailant not been neutralized, who knows who else he might have harmed, and to what extent.

    While I agree that the carry permit holder should have been detained for questioning ( was he?), any legal finding other than justifiable homicide would have been a gross miscarriage of justice.

  • Free man

    Isn’t this a smear by the police state. What the cops are really afraid of is the end to the no knock warrant.

  • Greg

    I ALWAYS have a gun with me while traveling, as an OTR truck driver, I am a BIG target for criminals, thanks to John M. Browning for my little friend.