The American Bar Association National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws held its second regional public hearing recently at ABA headquarters in Chicago.
Chicago community leaders and regional stakeholders offered their perspectives on the impact of Stand Your Ground laws, which have expanded self-defense laws in more than half the jurisdictions in the United States.
Lee Goodman, organizer of the Stop Concealed Carry Coalition, used the metaphor of a toddler’s temper tantrum to describe how grown-ups in our society lash out when “they think they don’t have control over their lives.” He expressed his disdain that “we’ve elevated the idea that the lone person acting with unlimited force” is a hero.
John A. Fairman, a private attorney specializing in civil and criminal litigation, testified that more than half of the states have adopted the Castle Doctrine — “a man’s home is his castle”— stating that a person has no duty to retreat when their home is attacked.
John A. Fairman
He pointed out that problems arise when the Castle Doctrine is expanded to Stand Your Ground laws that allow for self-defense in other lawfully occupied locations. Problems arise when Stand Your Ground laws are used to say, “I can shoot first and ask questions later,” Fairman said.
Chicago civil rights advocate the Rev. Janette C. Wilson asserted that there may be an element of racism when it comes to Stand Your Ground laws. “States in the South where we had the highest [numbers] of lynchings,” she said, “are the very same states that have introduced Stand Your Ground legislation.” She predicted rampant vigilantism unless Congress clarifies how the Castle Doctrine can and should be extended.
Martin Perez, a local immigration lawyer, testified that he “deals with conflict all day,” and he took aim at guns. “I’m not comfortable with people having such easy access to guns in a moment of rage,” he said.
Criminal defense attorney David Will pointed out the irony of his situation. He said he would like to be able to give his clients an out by telling them, “you have a right to defend yourself and you’re justified in what you’re doing.” But people shouldn’t have the right to address the issue of violence with more violence, he said.
“How many citizens in this country have to worry about armed marauders coming into [their homes] that they have to blow away? Do they really have to kill people?” asked Will, who pleaded for civility and proper problem-solving methods for resolving disputes. People need to find ways to “love each other instead of kill each other,” he said.
After a series of regional hearings, the task force will publish a report summarizing its findings on Stand Your Ground laws and their impact on the criminal justice system, affected communities and individual liberties. It will also issue recommendations that would serve as a guide for state and federal policymakers, government agencies and other organizations.
Other hearings are scheduled for June 6 in Philadelphia and Aug. 9 in San Francisco.
Leading the task force is the ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice. Other ABA partners are the Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, which includes the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession and the Council on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline, as well as the Young Lawyers Division, the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities and the Criminal Justice Section.