George Zimmerman and the future of self-defense laws

As you all know by now, the Zimmerman trial is over and the verdict was “not-guilty”. During the trial and right after, there was all sorts of nonsense spread by the media, pundits and pretty much anybody with a Twitter or Facebook account. The media is one thing; they have a vested interest in promoting their own agenda and tailoring their reports to suit that goal. I think it’s disgusting and even criminal but I doubt this will ever change. There’s simply too much money involved; people sell their souls for a whole lot less.

It’s also been a while since I heard so many uninformed and flat out erroneous opinions on both the case itself and self-defense laws in general. In part, this is due to the media constantly pushing disinformation. In part because of NBC News trying to compete with Joseph Goebbels in spreading a lie. It got indeed repeated loudly and long enough for a vast majority of people to believe it is true. It’s still a lie and they admitted to it, but that little tidbit of information is not a headline anywhere. Their faux-apology didn’t impress me one bit. News professionals do make mistakes but even an amateur working with raw audio material would spot that he was taking things completely out of context. I believe it was a major factor in inciting the public at large to view this as a race-related crime.

This is also the reason why I won’t comment much on the trial itself even though I think it was handled terribly and won’t allow any comments on it here. People (black, white, green, yellow or polka dot colored) stop listening and using their minds as soon as they think race is involved. They collectively go apeshit and stop making sense altogether. When you point this out to them, they accuse you of all sorts of evil crap, including racism.  If afterwards they realize they are wrong on specific parts of their argumentation (like the audio tape…) they ignore that part and focus on the rest.

George Zimmerman and the future of self-defense laws

I saw and heard some of the most outlandish things about legal self-defense in this case too. People with absolutely zero knowledge (as proven by their words) about the law and case law pontificate as if they have law degrees and dozens of years pleading murder trials. Even a first year law student would be able to correct them on everything they say. But they refuse to let go of their opinions (as unfounded and erroneous as they may be) when professionals and experienced experts who’s job is just that tell them otherwise.  If find this even worse when movie stars and other celebrities jump on the bandwagon. Only very few of them actually made some sense when they spoke up. I particularly liked Charles Barkley’s balanced and fair view.

All this together brings out the cynic in me (in all fairness, that doesn’t take much…) and makes me feel the human race might not deserve to survive, seeing what a mess we make of things. Or maybe I should just pack up and go live on a deserted island. Can you tell I have a strong opinion on this?

Anyway…

Moving on to the reason why I wrote this.

 

George Zimmerman and the future of self-defense laws

The result of this verdict, the media circus and all the opportunists trying to push their personal agenda is that I believe self-defense laws will gradually start to change. Perhaps I’m wrong but I think the Zimmerman trial will be used and abused to push through certain self-defense laws or make changes and amendments to existing ones. In my opinion, it’s unlikely these will be for the better.

Here’s the thing: laws need to be accepted by a sizable portion of the public. If they aren’t, those laws get ignored and broken systematically. Then governments try to enforce them, which they obviously can. However, democratically elected governments also know they can’t charge people by the millions when they break such a law. That’s just not realistic. The flip side of that coin is that come next elections, people won’t have forgotten. All put together, most politicians aren’t fully stupid (evil, corrupt, soulless, yes but I digress again.) and understand that their power is limited. Which is why rhetorical skills are so important, along with the role the media play: they have to sell those laws to the public. 

So what happens if the public at large starts to swing towards a specific view on self-defense laws? What happens if a case like the Zimmerman trial ingrains that mindset you can see more and more now after the verdict: “Change the self-defense laws! They suck!”  President Obama, who is no fool in using the media, spoke out before the verdict and after. He isn’t one to let such an opportunity go by.

I’m not blaming him, he’ just doing what any politician does. My point is that another percentage of the public has shifted towards the “all violence, including self-defense, is bad” camp and want something done about it. The larger that camp becomes, the easier it will be to change those self-defense laws to become more restrictive. Which I think is a mistake.

For decades now, most people in a modern society have been living in a sheltered environment. Violence is a rare thing for most of them. They don’t have to face it often in their daily lives. Many people even live out their lives without ever having to defend themselves or others. I’ve written about this before and won’t rehash it, here are the details. So to them, all those self-defense laws are silly and out of touch with reality. Isn’t violence just, you know, bad after all?

This mindset has permeated into the rest of society, including most school systems where any sort of violence means both parties get expelled. And so people learn form early childhood that they should avoid all violence, regardless the reason. Then they live a life where they typically never encounter it, which reinforces that message.  But when it does, they are shattered. Their world crumbles and many can’t face it. I know, I’ve taught many such people over the years when they finally decided to rebuild their lives and stop being afraid. But they’re still a minority though.

Here’s the thing: human nature hasn’t changed, modern society or not.

You can lie to yourself and pretend it doesn’t exist but people still go nuts over all sorts of things: jealousy, anger, alcohol, you name it. Mankind is inherently violent, no matter what kind of society it builds for itself. There will always be violence.

Hence the need for self-defense laws that are in touch with the reality of violence.

But as there are less and less people who understand violence, there is less and less support for self-defense laws that actually make sense. And then comes along a case like the Zimmerman trial…

What a useful opportunity to start making some changes to self-defense laws.

Like I said, President Obama has already announced his intentions. People like Al Sharpton get away with saying the most idiotic things like:

If he was raining blows, MMA-style, you think there would be some physical evidence of that on his fists.Second, it was testified that Zimmerman had MMA training. If Zimmerman had MMA training and there was an MMA attack going on, why didn’t he use his MMA training to defend himself?

If you have no experience with violence, this makes sense. It’s total nonsense in real life though. Just as Sharpton’s claim that a grown man should be able to handle a 17-year old “kid” is ludicrous too. But people are buying it. And will say “Yeah! Remember Treyvon!” when new self-defense laws are proposed.

And so the cycle will repeat.

I believe things will get a whole lot worse before they get better, if they ever do. But that’s just me.

 

What’s the point of all this?

In my post on preemptive strikes for self-defense, I wrote about the need to look up your self-defense laws before you decide and train how to use them. What I should have mentioned too is that laws are always a work in progress. They are continuously changed, altered, amended and so on. It never stops. Given how the Zimmerman trial will likely affect the self-defense laws in the US rapidly, I think you should definitely do your research right now. And then regularly follow up on it.

Yes, this is boring. But do you want to go through the same thing as Zimmerman did? Whether you believe he acted in self-defense or not is irrelevant. A court has decided he did and we all have to accept that ruling now. But win or lose, a murder trial is a life-shattering event. It has the kind of consequences you can never get away from, ever. So I believe it is in your best interest to not only track changes to National self-defense laws but specifically state-specific self-defense laws. I believe it is on the local level you’ll see the changes first.

So once again, look up your laws. Do it in the library or get this book that lists the laws for all 50 states, plus case law.  Go talk to police officers and criminal defense lawyers. Get informed and then stay informed.

Like a friend of mine said, when you are in a self-defense situation, you need to win three fights:

  • The fight with yourself and your adrenal stress.
  • The fight with your attacker.
  • The fight with the legal system.

Most people only train for the first two fights and forget the last. My goal with this article was to point out why now, after the Zimmerman verdict, focusing on that last fight is equally, if not more, important.

Good luck.

 

P.S.: I welcome all comments, as always. However, whoever starts on a political rant or pontificates ad nauseam on their own opinion will be blocked. So play nice and I will too.

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Comments

  1. Absolutely couldn’t agree more. It was difficult to find a dissenting voice among the groundswell of outrage last week, so I’m glad to see a more balanced approach. If only to remind myself that the world hadn’t gone completely mad.

    It’s difficult to go into this without the possibility of offending someone, but I’ll say it anyway: this case reminded me of the Pistorius trail (ongoing).

    What I mean by this is that, in both cases, the murder itself almost became irrelevant to the social context surrounding it. In Pistorius’ case, it was the treatment and subjugation of women in South Africa; in the Zimmerman case, it was about institutionalised racism and white (which Zimmerman wasn’t) vs. black. Before we were even looking at the legal inconsistencies, local legal systems, evidence, alibis, witnesses, forensics, the social context came first and coloured everything that came after it.

    It has made me think: if I ever have to defend myself against somebody and the attacker is mortally wounded, I can only hope that the attacker is a white, heterosexual, Christian (or atheist) male. Even I am cleared in a court of law, I may be a target of hate for the rest of my life depending on what demographic I may have offended by simply trying to defend myself. If I ever have to defend my life or that of my family against a very serious threat, this is not necessarily something I want to have to think about.

    Living in the UK, the fundamental reaction was depressingly predictable. We enjoy a low crime rate, no guns and most of the people commenting were left-wing/liberal (note – I’m politically neutral, this is just an observation) people who had never experience violent crime, nor lived in a climate where gun ownership was widespread. The knee-jerk reaction of moral outrage to a situation and environment they’d never encountered was remarkably narrow-minded. Add to this the consistent ignoring or bending of the facts and I felt that I had to simply bite my lips for a few days until the story passed.

    I’m very thankful that I live in a relatively safe country like the UK, but I can get frustrated at how completely ignorant we can be to violence and our inability to even *empathise* with more violent countries and how that affects how people live, think, react and choose to defend themselves.

    It’s also frustrated me to see some very, very intelligent people simply swallowing media half-truths and then going on to write tweets, articles, features based on it. Even a cursory look at Wikipedia would’ve been enough to debunk a lot of the myths that were being propagated in the media, but alas, simple outrage is much, much easier.

    • Nathan,
      Look up “celebereties react to Zimmerman verdict” on Google. Prepare to drink heavily after you watch it… :-)

      • And a great reason to be wary of celebrity opinion in general!

        Not sure if my neutrality came across well in my comment (my partner gave me a glass of red wine just before posting, so…), so just to re-iterate…

        I consider myself neutral, but a lot of the coverage was anything but. As with events like Zimmerman and Pistorius, the left tend to focus on the humanitarian context; while the right focus on defending gun rights. In the middle of all this is a complicated court case and sometimes what really happened and the complexities of the legal system can get drowned out in pursued agendas, self righteousness and white noise.

        In both cases, somebody is dead and it’s a tragedy that this is the case. Yet, as you rightly point out, it would be a shame to see, as a knee-jerk reaction, amendments to self-defense laws putting more people at risk than less.

  2. I couldn’t disagree more.

    Not with your facts, I’m sure they are all accurate. I couldn’t help hearing that there was a Zimmerman “case” but the details didn’t interest me.

    And you are likely right about what will now happen to self-defense laws.

    None of that inspires me to want to spend time following the politics and incarnations of the legal systems process on the subject. The opposite actually.

    It makes more sense to me to spend my time watching your self-defense videos and reading your books and Blog Posts.

    It’s a reflection of age and experience that I decided at some point that if the rules of the “game” don’t make any sense, then I will play by a set of rules that do. Self-defense is a “game” that I look at that way.

    I once rescued an infant (under 1 year, unable to walk) who had accidently fallen into a area almost two feet deep in plastic balls with dozens of much larger children jumping up and down and screaming. The parents were not aware. The kids were not aware. And apparently no one else was paying attention. I rather quickly took several steps, entered the play area, and scooped the kid up before someone jumped on him. When I came out I recognized who his parents had to be and gave the kid to them. They seemed pleased, but I got chewed out by my friend for messing with someone else’s kid and reminded of the risk of liability to myself. She might have been accurate on the facts; I wouldn’t do it differently.

    I don’t claim that my approach is right for everyone in all “games” at all times. After all, I function daily is the so-called “health care system” where the rules of the game are anything but sensible – for all of the same reasons: politics, priorities (greed) and power. But I do play by most of the rules most of the time.

    I thought I would share this view since it wasn’t likely to show up here otherwise:-)

    • No worries Dennis and no problem. I appreciate your view.
      I see it a little differently. I don’t care about the politics. All politicians can burn for all I care. I see it more as keeping informed about something that might impact my life drastically if I don’t. The rules don’t make sense, for sure. But being aware of them makes it easier to not follow them. ;-)

  3. Nice article.

    However what concerns me about this case, is noth the (supposed) racism, or politics.

    What worries me is that the laws allow a civilian to use lethal force in a threatening situation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stand-your-ground_law

    In this particular case it could noth have been proven that Mr Zimmerman not defended himself, while he used lethal force against an unarmed minor.

    However the law allowed him to carry a weapon and use lethal force, with only minimal training in handling violence.

    While a soldier or LEO has to master a wide skillset of not just the use of force, but also de-escalation skills, restraining techniques, unarmed self defense, all kinds of protocols. The civilian only needs basic firearm training and can then use it for self defense.

    Since he only has trained in the use of a firearm he only has one solution to handle a threat: lethal force.

    Also what seems suspicious to me, is that besides some unclear witness statements, Only Mr Zimmerman could give a statement of what exactly happened before he took the shot.

    Hypothetically he could have initiated the violence, and when he began to lose the fight, decided to use his weapon.

    In a certain way this allows a citizen to kill another and then claim self defense, the only person who can contradict this statement is dead.

    In my mind it is unresponsible to allow civilians to carry weapons for self defense.
    LEO,s and military personel are full time professionals who spend lots of time in learning how to apply force in different kind of situations, I don,t think a civilian should have acces to lethal force.

    • Joshua,

      A couple things:
      – Look up Massad Ayoob’s blog. First look up who he is to understand why he is an important voice in the debate. Second, read all the entries about this case on his blog. Then you’ll see why many of the things you said are factually not true and your interpretation of both this case and the law is erroneous.
      – Another way of looking at the stand your ground laws is this: It prevents people from being sued when they are in self-defense situation. Look up some case law and you’ll notice how self-defense laws are used against people who rightfully defend themselves. “Why didn’t you run?” comes up all the time. But it isn’t always as simple as “just run!” as I have written about here at length.
      – I agree with the need for training. If I could write the laws, I would mandate training and certification, with annual re-certification before anybody got a firearm permit. If LEOs are held to that standard, I don’t see why civilians don’t have to be.
      – If you don’t think a civilian should have access to lethal force, then you are advocating they just die when somebody tries to take their life. Look up the murder and manslaughter statistics, it happens a lot.
      Very often, only lethal force stops people from having lethal force used against them. Less than lethal force to stop such a scenario is much, much harder to make work. For many people, that’s a skill they can’t attain, hence the need for weapons. What you say is that those people should just die. I disagree with that.

      Before you reply, please remember that I said “no politics” in the comments. I have already deleted several comments that did just that. It’s OK to disagree with me and I’m willing to discuss this to a certain extent but there are limits to what I’ll accept.

      • Good points, And I understand there will always be two vantage points on topics like these.

        Do you think Belgium would be a safer place when civilians would be allowed to carry firearms for the use of self defense?

        • It depends on how they would implement it. Given as it’s Belgium we’re talking about, they’d probably mess it up completely.

  4. Charles James says

    Just wait, your prediction will come to pass, just wait for the next socially driven furor similar to this one and the guy will end up in Jail for life. Socially driven changes to appease the masses is not a good way to make and change laws.

    Justice is just not just. Sigh.

  5. Darrin E Kemp says

    No political comments.How about an emotional one?I’m an african american male.I spend a good deal of my life terified of a Trayvon like senario where I end up dead.This isn’t political for me,it’s practical.You dont know how many times I’ve “fit the description”.It actually makes me afraid to defend myself.A smart person can turn it around on me pretty quick.”Gee officer me and my five friends were mindin’ our bizzness,when this crazy black guy attacked us”.And the sad part is it works.A large chunk of the white community has decided that “all of us are like that”.
    smh.

    • Understood Darrin. There are no easy answers and no quick solutions. Personally, I don’t see any but that’s just my inner cynic. Maybe I’m wrong.
      That said, I’ve traveled the world a fair bit and have experienced racism against me in virtually every country I went. I’ve experienced it here at home because of my ethnic background, and my children will suffer for it if they ever have to be taken to the hospital in the capital of my country because the chances of a doctor speaking their language is slim. I could go on but won’t. My point is, racism exists everywhere and the culprits have all colors, ages and nationalities.

    • Sorry to hear you feel this way, Darrin. In the mid 1990s when I use to visit my father in the Mediterranean in a well known tourist resort (he managed discos and finally as an equipment supplier to restaurants etc), the golden rule was do everything possible not to get in a fight with a local (I looked like a foreigner) as any other local would probably get involved to help the local (based on appearance and/or if they knew you if you looked foreign) even if the local was in the wrong and the police would probably back them up unless it was so glaring obvious that they couldn’t get away with it. So may be in your training you could improvise scenarios where someone racially abuses before they attack you or any other methods say like doing jumping jacks for a minute and then straight into an abusive scenario where you try to ignore the abuse and keep to the job at hand of protecting yourself. You could maybe build up from social conflict where someone is trying to belittle you in front of his friends and pushing you etc and you just walking away, keeping your distance etc or to cases like the Stephen Lawrence case here in the UK where a bunch of white racist thugs just identified Stephen as a target for process predation ie they did it for the sheer enjoyment of stabbing him (ie Rory Miller’s asocial violence which you probably know already). Also increase stress where possible like only allowed to defend with one hand or trying singing a song while be attacking (a friend told me that from a seminar once). Or any other scenarios from recent news stories or things that particularly worry you. Of course the avoidance and de-escalation as stressed by Wim are a must and the practice of articulating why you had to defend yourself but if you don’t trust the police that could be a problem and may be the best bet is to get away from the scene as fast as possible to avoid the police (otoh the police may want to help you as best they can to avoid any bad publicity as the media seem to be excellent at identifying any police bias these days). Doing everything possible with good training partners while still enjoying life to the full. Hell, you might know this already and I’ve wasted your time but I like to hear other people’s opinions/fears/concerns. Cheers!

  6. j.a.mullins says

    Hey wim,
    It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to catch up here; work, work, work.

    This is a very controversial topic simply because we have made it one. It has been over analyzed, over publicized, and over criticized to the point that very few people can honestly draw the same value judgements about it. The media does that on purpose because it gives them broader exposure to push very convoluted, and often contradictory, agendas.

    Now, that being said, for most people the fundamental issues at heart are simple.
    Why did the situation begin? and Who was responsible for the escalation to physical violence?
    What was going in that neighborhood that led either of them to make the decisions that they made? and How what was going on there important to the situation?
    Was either or both of them correct in their actions? and Were the actions each of them took justifiable under the circumstances?

    Basically the two men met in an encounter in a social context (no war, no legal action, not a duel) that manage to escalate into a violent confrontation where one man was left dead. I find it hard to believe that prior to the moment of this event that there weren’t any other factors at play that led to this encounter that could have been dealt with to prevent it from escalating to someone’s death.

    Violent acts are based on circumstances, basically needs at the time committed, to achieve a certain result. The social issues that led to that night’s events could have been interpreted and handled differently to achieve different circumstances that would not include someone’s death.

    As far as what will happen in the future in regards to self defense and the law that is hard to say, but here in the USA there currently still exists a constitutionally based right to defend yourself, to include guidelines to prevent the abuse of such a right. Fundamentally altering that would in essence go against the constitution, the founding principles of the nation, and ultimately the welfare of the people. I don’t mention this to disrespect other nations, I don’t know the laws of other nations and can say this in regards to the laws here.

    Personally I feel that people have the inalienable human right to be safe from the predatory and malicious acts of other humans. Bringing age, maturity, faith, sanity, social standing, health, etc. into it doesn’t matter. If someone is going to commit a predatory or malicious act against another person the reason why will not matter at that moment, only the act will matter (especially if it is intentionally life threatening), and dealing with the act to prevent its success is all that matters in that moment. We tend to get caught in a society of equals mentality where we seek out to justify some small part of someone’s reason for committing a predatory or malicious act against someone else. We say; ‘oh, that person is mentally challenged’, ‘it was because of dire economic hardship that someone became disenfranchised in society and lost perspective’, ‘that person merely had an episode of stress induced rage because of a change in medication’. That all sounds good on paper, but it didn’t stop that person from deciding to commit a predatory or malicious act against someone else. So, why should someone else be held liable for the outcome for defending themselves? Whether they are trained or not.

    Self defense isn’t really about fighting, fighting is about fighting, self defense is about preserving your right to prevent someone else from committing a predatory or malicious act against you. laws that restrict that right will not effect criminals but will further hinder the general population’s ability to fight in the event of a need to defend against a predatory or malicious act committed by the population’s governing body.

    Almost every act you can think of that would fall under the justifiable list for self defense isn’t under one law or another, whether it be a federal, state, or municipal ruling. This isn’t done to preserve the rights of the people, but the rights of the governing body in a court of law. Criminals are not the masses, law abiding citizens make up the masses, and that is were the largest ordeal of societal control exists for government. It’s nothing evil, just a matter of status quote.

    Besides, most of us want to think of ourselves as the guy who will take of business, but most of us have no clue what that really means. I try to keep up with laws and incident rates in my area so I can pass on information to my students that may help them in making a better decision, especially where the use of force is concerned. The whole word just made ups its mind over the Zimmerman case, but only two men where there. Is it fair to decide an outcome regarding everyone over two people?

    Sorry, I rant too much.

    Good blog again Wim.

    • J.A, You may call that a rant but I deem it as an excellent commentary of the whole situation and a well balanced perspective. :-)

      • j.a.mullins says

        thanks marc
        it’s a tough topic to approach, it requires real commitment on the behalf anyone seriously considering taking an action that possibly can be deemed as non-conformist or ultra-extremist

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