WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF
THE NEWTOWN ACTION ALLIANCE
“Stand Your Ground’ Laws: Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force”
Senate Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
DATE: September 17, 2013
TIME: 10:00 AM
ROOM: Hart 216
The Newtown Action Alliance (“NAA”) is a 100% volunteer based grassroots organization founded by Newtown residents in the weeks after December 14, 2012. The NAA works with other gun safety organizations towards safer schools, streets, towns, and cities. Members of the NAA travelled from Newtown, Connecticut to Washington, DC early this morning to attend this hearing and to meet with lawmakers to press for common sense measures that will reduce gun violence. We are joined by families that have lost loved ones due to gun violence and gun safety advocates from Chicago, Hartford, Aurora, Arizona, Wisconsin, Utah, Virginia, New Jersey, and Ohio. We all have experienced the pain and sorrow resulting from unnecessary gun violence in our communities. We are united by our strong desire to reverse the growing gun violence epidemic that currently plagues our communities and our Nation.
The NAA opposes Stand Your Ground or “Make My Day” laws as they are sometimes referred to, as they exacerbate an exploding gun violence problem facing America. We are honored to be here today with the parents of Trayvon Martin. Rather than stand our ground, the NAA stands with the Martin family and with families from all across America who demand that we take back our country from the gun violence that occurs every day. Getting rid of Stand Your Ground laws is a good place to start.
Connecticut is not a “Stand Your Ground” state. To the contrary, while Connecticut does allow open carry to those who are licensed, it adheres to the traditional common law Castle Doctrine. The Castle Doctrine provides that an individual has no duty to retreat when in his or her home, or “castle,” and may use reasonable force, including deadly force, to defend his or her property, person, or another. In certain circumstances, the law permits one to attack an intruder and use a firearm instead of first retreating. Forty-six states currently employ the Castle Doctrine.
While the NAA is not looking to overturn the Castle Doctrine, we do not condone the current state of the law which permits a person’s “castle” to be converted into mini military depots. The NAA strongly urges Congress to ban military style weapons and high capacity magazines even inside one’s “castle.” In addition, the NAA is pressing for expanded universal background checks and a strong federal trafficking law. These measures are constitutional, would reduce gun violence, and at the same time allow for self-defense as the Supreme Court has currently interpreted the Second Amendment.
While the Castle Doctrine allows for the use of reasonable force inside one’s home, outside of the “castle,” however, an individual has a duty to retreat, if able to do so, before using force. Stand Your Ground laws remove the common law requirement to retreat when a person is outside of the “castle”, allowing that person to use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat. Approximately twenty states have adopted some form of Stand Your Ground. Under Florida law, a person “has 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.”
The combination of expanding open-carry laws, the ease in many states to obtain an open carry permit, the proliferation of firearms of all shapes and sizes in our communities, the failure to require universal background checks, and more, results in a greater risk of gun violence in our communities, where the victims may well be innocent bystanders. In essence, these laws are empowering ordinary citizens to fire their deadly weapons in public places even though they do not have a fraction of the training of police officers as to when it is appropriate to shoot first. We have created a society where ordinary citizens can feel and act like Dirty Harry, and get away with it even when they are wrong and even when retreating and calling law enforcement was a viable option.
The upshot of these laws is that we are encouraging gun battles in our streets, in our stores and malls, and on our football and soccer fields. Emboldened citizens with no police training will continue to take matters into their own hands resulting not only in the deaths of their intended targets but also in the deaths or significant injuries of innocent bystanders, including children caught in the crossfire.
The NAA urges this Congress and statehouses throughout the United States to eliminate Stand Your Ground or “Make My Day” laws. The common law duty requiring ordinary citizens to retreat when outside his or her “castle” has served America and other civilized societies well. Reverting to this traditional standard is an important step in reversing the gun violence epidemic that plagues America, and for taking back our streets for our children.