A businessman slid out of his car in a dimly lighted parking garage in a sizable Florida city years ago, only to be confronted at arm's length by a robber armed with a pipe. The guy did the world a favor and shot him dead.
It so obviously was self-defense that it was shocking when a prosecutor charged the man with murder because -- face-to-face with imminent deadly force -- he failed to retreat as required by law. I remember later standing where the shooting occurred, wondering whether he could have retreated, or where he would have gone.
In a grim miscarriage of justice, he was convicted, if memory serves, of manslaughter.
Florida in 2005 adopted a so-called "stand your ground" law to head off such prosecutorial travesties. Twenty-three states have followed suit. Alaska almost was fortunate enough to join the list but some in the state Senate got squishy in the legislative session's waning days, cowed by the furor surrounding 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's shooting death in Sanford, Fla., and the storm over Florida's much-maligned law.
The Left -- in full fibbing mode and election panic -- crassly opted to use Martin's death and "stand your ground" laws to flail at one of its scariest boogeymen, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Aided by ignorant media and goofy pundits, the Left mischaracterized the laws as "make my day" and "shoot first" statutes allowing use of deadly force if a person "feels threatened." What utter rubbish.
The conservative ALEC, a supporter of "stand your ground" laws, absolutely terrifies the Left. It's easy to see why. It provides legislation templates and boasts more than 2,000 state lawmakers as members from all 50 states, along with corporation representatives. Its sins du jour include helping states with voter ID laws and "stand your ground" legislation. It is a liberal's nightmare of union laws, tort and education reforms and pro-business measures -- sort of a pinko's Tenth Circle of Hell.
It should be noted, the Left has no problem with hundreds of liberal or socialist groups -- ranging from billionaire George Soros' Advancement Project, to MoveOn.org, to the Working Families Party -- working to get laws passed and policies adopted.
Through nut-job outfits like ColorOfChange.org and Progress Florida, the Left used Martin's death to boycott ALEC sponsors and hector supporters -- Coca-Cola, Wendy's, Kraft and Intuit and others -- to sever ties with the group. Even as ALEC itself last week backed away from "stand your ground" legislation, leftists fumed. They said the group, which relies on more than 200 corporations for funding, will continue to sponsor "corporate friendly" laws -- and now they demand lawmakers resign.
The attacks were so vicious, so pervasive, that ALEC said it no longer would advocate for measures not aimed at "jobs, free markets and growth."
The venom spilled into Alaska. House Bill 80, sponsored by Big Lake Republican Mark Neuman, had wide bipartisan support. It was a good bill, passing the House 33-6. It went to the Senate and died in -- where else? -- the Finance Committee.
Elegantly simple, it added "any place where the person has a right to be" to the list of places where a person could defend himself or herself in the face of deadly force without retreating. Laws of self-defense would have remained. The measure reeked of common sense.
It would have meant, in that electrifying nanosecond when you are staring death in the face and your brain is scrambling to catch up, you would not have to take a moment and coolly reflect on whether you could retreat safely. The bill recognized, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. so famously observed, that "detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife."
Some prosecutors cringe at "stand your ground" laws because, they say, such statutes make their jobs tougher. One Anchorage prosecutor testified during the legislative hearings that Neuman's measure would only help criminals. Good grief. The businessman in that dark garage certainly was no criminal. What hungry prosecutors fail to mention is that when your legal obligation to retreat is removed, their ability to prosecute iffy cases in the gray areas dries up.
Alaska, badly in need of such a law to protect innocent citizens from ambitious prosecutors, has fallen victim to the Left's national nuttiness. Too bad.
One day, it could be a liberal in a dark garage, trying to decide what to do.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.