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Beware, Alaska's 'stand your ground' law will soon apply

OPINION: If it is now legal to kill someone simply out of fear, instead of actual provocation, then so-called "stand your ground" laws are evil, including the one set to take effect in Alaska in September.
Aaron Jansen illustration

It is with some trepidation that I write this commentary. I will probably offend someone who feels threatened of having his firearm or firearms being taken away, although that will never happen. I may also be placing a bullseye on my forehead or at my back.

There is something sinister and evil about the "stand your ground" law. It has the potential to wreak havoc across the land. It promises to unleash millions of armed citizens in America to rise up against other citizens.

We have seen and witnessed the trial of one of its victims, Trayvon Martin, a youthful black male who was merely doing what millions of black youth do, walking home from a convenience store with a bag of candy and a soft drink.

Although his killer, George Zimmerman, is really not free, and is in hiding, the message is clear. It is OK to select a prey, confront him or her, shoot to kill, and say, 'I was merely protecting myself.'

The court also set the stage for other killers to avoid prosecution. It said it is unlawful for juries to cite racial profiling and prohibits them from even discussing the issue. It has set a dangerous legal precedent.

"Stand your ground" laws, sometimes referred to as "shoot first" laws, radically changes the legal definition of self-defense for citizens who feel they are being confronted with deadly force or imminent danger. There isn’t the need for citizens to know that deadly force actually exists, it merely says a “feeling” of deadly force may be there.

Under the old law, people had a duty to retreat when confronted with what they perceived to be deadly force. That no longer applies. The "stand your ground" law removes that definition, meaning folks who feel threatened are no longer required to diffuse a situation before shooting to kill in self-defense.

In reality then, it is now legal to kill another human being without provocation. Alaska’s "stand your ground" law goes into effect in September. Bars and clubs are going to be dangerous places to hang out. Even grocery stores aren’t going to be safe. All a gun-toting dude will need is the perception that a threat is there, and out comes a gun. The perception doesn’t even have to be real.

And a victim of a shooting death can be chased down like Trayvon Martin was.

The Florida law had major support from the National Rifle Association under a Republican state legislature during Gov. Jeb Bush's administration when Florida became the first state to enact a "stand your ground" law, on Oct. 1, 2005. Since then, the "stand your ground" law has been invoked in more than 200 cases in Florida where charges were dismissed or defendants were acquitted or not charged at all, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Both of our senators, Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, are on record of supporting the NRA. Our lone congressman Don Young has always been and remains a member in good standing of the NRA. Our governor and Legislature are also supporters of the NRA and its goal of every household member in the state being armed to the teeth.

When Alaska's "stand your ground" law had its first hearing, representatives from the Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Public Defender Agency testified but did not speak in favor of the bill or against it. But the Alaska Department of Law did express concern over the legislation, saying it could authorize vigilantism.

Twenty-four states have "stand your ground" laws. Alaska will become the 25th in September. Life as we know it will change forever.

John Tetpon is an Anchorage journalist who has worked for the Anchorage Daily News and The Anchorage Times, assigned to cover state and federal courts, police and crime, and rural issues. He was also the director of communications for the Alaska Federation of Natives. He is retired and lives in Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.