Critics of Florida’s self-defense law object to its recognition of a right to “stand your ground” in public places, which eliminated the duty to retreat from an assailant. Yet many of these critics seem to believe they have a duty to stand their ground and never retreat, using George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin as a weapon to attack Florida’s law, no matter what the evidence shows.
The emphasis on the right to stand your ground is puzzling in the context of the Martin case, since Zimmerman’s defense does not seem to rely on it. The 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, who was released on bail this week after being charged with second-degree murder in connection with the Feb. 26 shooting in Sanford, told police the unarmed teenager knocked him down with a punch to the face and pinned him to the ground, repeatedly smacking his head against the pavement. By Zimmerman’s account, then, he had no opportunity to retreat.
Florida’s law also has been blamed for delaying Zimmerman’s arrest, and it did require that police have probable cause to believe the shooting was unlawful. But this is the same standard that applies to arrests for all other crimes, and whatever obstacle it may have posed proved temporary.