An anti-gun nonprofit group is speaking out against "Stand Your Ground" laws with a new ad that re-enacts what the group imagines happened during the final moments of Trayvon Martin’s life.
The nonprofit, The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, seeks to "secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement and effective policy advocacy." The group released the new PSA as part of a petition for people to call on their state legislators to change "Stand Your Ground" laws. These self-defense laws essentially give people the right to use deadly force to protect themselves or others from serious bodily harm or death, and they attracted national attention and criticism after initially being mentioned as a possible defense in the George Zimmerman case.
Zimmerman was accused of second-degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Martin in Sanford, Florida, in February 2012. Zimmerman’s attorneys ultimately didn’t use "Stand Your Ground" in Zimmerman’s defense, and Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in July.
The new PSA -- "Stand Up to 'Stand Your Ground'" -- uses audio from both Zimmerman’s non-emergency call to police the night Martin died and a 911 call made by a witness who lived in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. You can watch the PSA on the group's website, www.csgv.org.
The video's storyline is the nonprofit's take on what residents living near the scene of Martin's killing might have experienced that night in February 2012, and it ends with a sober scene: Following the sound of a gunshot and a woman's voice crying "oh my God," several bodies -- one to represent each of the 18 states with Stand Your Ground laws -- lie on the ground. They all wear hoodies similar to the one Martin was wearing the night he died.
"What we're trying to achieve is we're trying to personalize the issue," said Ladd Everitt, director of communications for The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "Americans have heard a great deal about this case, but very few Americans have tried to imagine what it was like to be there that night, and not just for Martin or Zimmerman, but for the people who watched the tragedy unfold."
Everitt said he wants the PSA to accomplish two things.
"First, to get the idea out that this was a tragedy that affected everyone in that area, not just the families involved, but the people who were there that night," Everitt said. "And second, that Trayvon Martin isn't the only victim of these laws."
But Darren Kavinoky, a criminal defense attorney who supports "Stand Your Ground" laws because he believes people should have the right to use reasonable force to defend themselves, calls this new ad short-sighted.
"If you look at it the other way, the inability to stand your ground arguably cheapens the life of someone who may have just been minding his own business," Kavinoky said. "The PSA is a compelling video and has a catchy slogan, but that doesn't mean it's a well thought out legal proposition. At the end of the day, we need to be guided by what's reasonable. People should have the right to use reasonable force to defend themselves in a reasonable fashion. And sometimes that means standing your ground is OK."
Currently, 18 states have their own versions of a "Stand Your Ground" law, and even more states have adopted a variation of the law called the "Castle Doctrine."
"Castle Doctrine" laws provide that deadly force is justifiable in someone's home when the homeowner is in reasonable fear of injury or death. Kavinoky says what "Stand Your Ground" laws do is extend the rights provided by the "Castle Doctrine" beyond the walls of your home, or "castle," which in some states includes vehicles and places of work. In some cases, "Stand Your Ground" laws also don't require people to retreat before forcibly defending themselves.
Everitt said The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence wants its PSA to "reflect how cheaply these laws treat human life."
The anti-gun group condemns all "Stand Your Ground"-related laws on its website with a statement that reads, "Now you can provoke a fight, and if losing that fight, kill the person you attacked."
According to the law, though, that isn’t necessarily true. While proving who provoked a fight may be difficult, according to Kavinoky, a "Stand Your Ground" hearing works differently than other hearings, requiring the defendant to prove he or she was entitled to use deadly force.
The controversial details of "Stand Your Ground" laws came into question in another well-known case in Florida -- the Marissa Alexander case. Alexander unsuccessfully claimed Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" law as a defense against multiple counts of aggravated assault with a firearm. Alexander claimed she was protecting herself from an abusive husband and had the right to stay and stand her ground in her own defense.
But the judge in Alexander’s case found it wasn’t proven that the law applied to her circumstance. Alexander said she went into the couple’s garage to leave, found she had forgotten her car keys, grabbed a gun and then went back inside to fire a “warning shot” at her husband. Legal experts say these actions contradicted the idea that she was in fear for her life. The judge stated it appeared Alexander fired the shot out of anger, not fear.
Everitt says that 1,750 people so far have signed the petition that inspired the coalition's PSA and that not everyone who has viewed the video -- more than 250,000 people at this point -- is taking action.