Skip to main content

A deadly combination -- guns and 'stand your ground'

By Mark NeJame, CNN Contributor
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Mon April 30, 2012
If guns are readily available, then vague
If guns are readily available, then vague "stand your ground" laws could justify gunfights, says Mark NeJame.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mark NeJame: Combination of guns and "stand your ground" laws are dangerous
  • He says laws enable people to use deadly force even if they're not at risk
  • "Castle doctrine" justifies use of deadly force to protect yourself in your home, he says
  • NeJame: Extending the castle doctrine everywhere raises questions

Editor's note: Mark NeJame is a CNN legal analyst and contributor and has practiced law, mainly as a criminal defense attorney, for more than 30 years. He is the founder and senior partner of NeJame, LaFay, Jancha, Ahmed, Barker and Joshi, P.A., in Orlando, Florida. Follow him on Twitter: @marknejame

(CNN) -- If one brings a gun to a fistfight, then the fight becomes a gunfight.

Simple reasoning, of course, but it's also an unnecessary consequence of combining legislation that makes guns readily available with "stand your ground" laws.

I can already hear the clicking of keyboards from my desk, as the drinkers of NRA-flavored Kool-Aid feverishly type their outrage and disgust with any suggestion that gun laws need to be reviewed.

Mark NeJame
Mark NeJame

I own guns. They are kept in my home. I strongly believe in the "castle doctrine," which essentially means that homeowners have no duty or requirement to retreat in their home if they are attacked within it.

If someone breaks into a stranger's home, the homeowner doesn't know whether the intruder is there to rob, rape, terrorize or have milk and cookies with them. Regardless, it's reasonable that a robber should have an expectation of death if he or she breaks into someone's home.

Unstable ground: The fine line between self-defense and murder

Florida's stand your ground law was passed in 2005, under Gov. Jeb Bush's administration. This is the law that has garnered so much national attention since the Trayvon Martin shooting and George Zimmerman's arrest.

Stand your ground legislation basically extends the castle doctrine to all places beyond the home. Retreat in order to avoid a confrontation becomes unnecessary even in a public place. Florida Statute 776.013 (3) states:

"A person who is not engaged in 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 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."

This law applies a confusing blend of subjective and objective standards. Stand your ground is appropriate in many circumstances, but the lack of clarity in the statute needs to be addressed and re-evaluated, particularly when firearms are so readily accessible in public places.

The way the statute is written, an individual who observes a fistfight could conceivably shoot and kill the dominator in the fight if they reasonably believed that person was going to cause "great bodily harm" to the other.

Even if the two combatants knew that the fight was nothing more than a "good ol' boy" disagreement, the way the statute is written could allow a gun to be used if the observer reasonably and actually believed that great bodily harm could occur.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook.com/cnnopinion 

Moreover, merging the statute with overly relaxed gun laws could open the door for the guilty to walk away without consequence. Consider another gun-toting observer of the hypothetical fist fight, who is an enemy of one of the combatants.

He could easily hide behind the claim that he reasonably believed that the other combatant was going to cause great bodily harm if the fight continued. The shooter could have every evil motive in the world, but so long as he stood behind the story that he reasonably believed the other person could suffer great bodily harm or death, then he could conceivably  walk.

When guns are permitted in every public place and are mixed with such an obtusely written statute, a puzzling and perplexing standard of behavior regarding the use of guns occurs. This becomes a recipe for disaster and death.

Gun laws and the stand your ground law need to be re-evaluated and addressed responsibly very soon.  If we don't learn lessons from the Trayvon Martin tragedy, then we are doomed to see similar events happen.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark NeJame. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Sat September 13, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
A Scottish vote for independence next week could trigger wave of separatist tension in Europe, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 6:12 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
You couldn't call him a "Bond villain" in the grand context of Dr. No or Auric Goldfinger. They were twisted visionaries of apocalypse whose ideas were to be played out at humanity's expense.
updated 1:05 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
As a Latina activist I was hurt to hear the President would delay executive action to keep undocumented immigrants with no criminal record from getting deported.
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:24 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Stevan Weine says the key is to stop young people from acquiring radicalized beliefs in the first place.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
US Currency is seen in this January 30, 2001 image. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Lisa Gilbert says a million people have asked the SEC to make corporations disclose political contributions.
updated 12:55 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Christi Paul says unless you've walked in an abused woman's shoes, don't judge her, help her get answers to the right questions: Why does he get to hit her? And why does nobody do anything to stop him?
updated 3:32 PM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says several other NFL players arrested recently in domestic violence are back on the field. Roger Goodell has shown he is clueless on abuse. He must go.
updated 1:59 PM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Newt Gingrich says President Obama has a remarkable opportunity Wednesday night to mobilize support for a coalition against ISIS.
updated 8:41 PM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Texas senator says Obama should seek congressional authorization for a major bombing campaign vs. ISIS.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT