Florida’s landmark “stand your ground” self-defense law is again in the spotlight after the Nov. 23 shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Jordan Davis, by 40-something software developer and gun collector Michael Dunn after an argument about loud music outside a Jacksonville convenience store.
Jordan’s death is drawing comparisons to the shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin in February by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, chiefly because both shooters are expected to claim immunity from prosecution under the state’s 2005 stand your ground law that ended any legal requirement for lawful citizens to back away from danger, even in public places.
Two weeks ago, a state task force deemed that the stand your ground law is, on the whole, sound and needs no major legislative reform. Florida has seen a growing number of “stand your ground” claims, even in prosecutions with minor injuries, says University of Florida law professor Bob Dekel. Stand your ground claims are successful about 70 percent of the time, according to a recent St. Petersburg Times analysis.
The Martin case caused nationwide protests and calls for justice after the Sanford Police Department declined to press charges against Mr. Zimmerman, who was eventually arrested 44 days later and charged with second-degree murder after a special state investigation into the shooting. His trial has been scheduled for June 10, 2013.
In the Martin case, Zimmerman spotted Trayvon on a rainy night, confronted him after deeming him suspicious, and got into what Zimmerman says was a losing tussle before he pulled out a gun and fired a single shot into Trayvon’s chest as the boy straddled him. Trayvon had been on his way back to the house where his dad was staying when the shooting occurred. He was carrying a bag of Skittles and an iced tea.
In the shooting of Jordan Davis, Mr. Dunn, after stopping at a convenience store, asked a group of black youths to turn down loud music pouring out of their SUV. According to Dunn, he felt threatened when Jordan began trash-talking him. He fired eight shots into the SUV after he says one of the people brandished a shotgun. Police did not find any weapons, but Dunn’s lawyer says the group could have ditched it.
In both cases, the parents of the slain boys describe their sons as upstanding and innocent. Trayvon had been an aspiring airplane mechanic, and Jordan was known for “million dollar” smiles and was getting ready to start his first job at McDonald’s.
Jacksonville police have already said that Dunn, not the boys, was at fault. "It was loud, they admitted that, but that's not a reason for someone to open fire on them and take action," said Lt. Rob Schoonover of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Some legal analysts also note that someone simply brandishing a weapon, as Dunn claimed that teens in the SUV had been doing, also isn’t a reasonable defense for opening fire, because people are allowed to own and carry shotguns.
While the Davis case is getting national attention, largely because of the racial narrative of another older white man killing a black teenager in a public place, the debate hasn’t risen to the fever pitch of the Martin shooting aftermath. The main reason is that police have already charged Dunn with murder and attempted murder for his actions. And unlike the Martin case, there are several strong eyewitnesses to the shooting.
At the same time, the Davis family is receiving an outpouring of support. A “Justice for Jordan” Facebook page has been set up, and firetrucks, in a salute, sprayed water from their water cannons over an airplane departing Jacksonville with Jordan’s body. Jordan’s family is from Marietta, Ga.
Like Trayvon Martin’s parents, Ron Davis, Jordan’s dad, vowed to fight laws like Florida’s that allow people to carry and legitimately use concealed weapons in public.
"Law enforcement should be the only people who should have guns on the street," he told USA Today. "That's what's killing our kids more than anything."