In my long experience debating religious believers, gun enthusiasts, cheerleaders of conservative economics, and oftentimes a predictable salad of all three, I have learned that there are two basic ways to debate flawed arguments:
The first is to point out the errors and logical fallacies that are contained in the argument, and then offer a more reasonable alternative. However, as can be expected, this straightforward approach is not usually very effective. People who do not employ reason to reach their opinions in the first place will probably be immune to reason when you try to get them to change their minds.
For this reason, I usually employ the second method, which is to simply run with my counterpart’s flawed line of reasoning in order to show the preposterous outcomes that will result if this line of reasoning is followed to its inevitable conclusion.
Case in point – Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, and its influence on the George Zimmerman trial.
Laws that enshrine people’s right to self defense are not at all new to the US, but what makes this specific one so preposterous is the 2005 revision of this law, most especially subcategory 3 of Florida’s Statute 776.013, which reads: “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony”.
There are two factors that make this 2005 statute so uniquely ridiculous:
- A person is no longer required to even try to get out of harm’s way before legally using deadly force to “stand his or her ground”. Simply ask yourself how a person can be trusted to determine what is or isn’t a life threatening situation if he/she is able yet not even willing to remove themselves from harm’s way? You might as well declare that your television is broken any time you are unwilling to get off the couch and look for the remote.
- A person who uses deadly force no longer has to prove that his/her life was actually threatened. All the person needs to prove is that he/she reasonably BELIEVED it was necessary to use deadly force.Think about it – no longer is there a need to prove that your belief accurately represented the reality of what was going on, only that you harbored a reasonable amount of personal belief – that’s it – a faith based license to kill.
Though many have rightly tried to show how dangerous and nonsensical this law is, as mentioned above, seeing how sound reasoning wasn’t employed in the 2005 rewriting of this law, sound reasoning is probably not going to sway Florida lawmakers to rewrite it again.
Therefore, why don’t we follow this flawed reasoning, and see where it can take us?
For starters, if a person is no longer required to retreat before deciding that he/she is in life threatening danger, you could simply stop in the middle of a crosswalk, wait until a car is speeding your way, and maintaining your right to “stand your ground”, shoot the oncoming driver through his windshield? it doesn’t even matter if the driver slows down before you shoot him; all you would have to show is that you BELIEVED he was about to kill or otherwise gravely harm you. In fact, you could even shoot the driver if you believe he is about to hit someone else.
Yet another unsurprising conclusion is that Florida Statute 776.013(3) actually makes it legal for you to kill George Zimmerman. Yes, you read correctly. According to how Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was interpreted in the Zimmerman trial, you can legally profile George Zimmerman as a dangerous person (he had killed a 17 year old teenager, after all), legally follow him, legally confront him, and then, having every reason to BELIEVE he is armed and poses a life threatening danger (as he had before), legally pull out your own handgun and shoot him.
I hasten to add that I am in no way actually advocating or even condoning any form of violence being visited on anyone – including George Zimmerman. I am merely trying to show the preposterous legal possibilities that Florida’s existing cowboy laws allow.
Many people have pointed out the deep irony in George Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman, voicing his fears about people who would “take the law into their own hands” and harm his brother. But the real irony comes when you consider how entirely lawful the Sunshine State has made it to do exactly that.