Only George Zimmerman knows what led him to shoot and kill Trayvon Martin last month in Sanford, Fla., though Americans can hope investigators will find out – and that justice, as well as cooler heads, will prevail. Meanwhile, Kansas legislators owe their constituents a reconsideration of the state’s 6-year-old “stand your ground” law, which looks even more permissive than the Florida statute initially cited as excusing Zimmerman’s act.
The case has sparked outrage around the country, including Kansas. About 500 Wichitans marched in protest Friday. A candlelight vigil will be held at 8 p.m. today at 21st and Hillside for Martin and victims of violence due to racial profiling. The case and Kansas’ “stand your ground” law also will be the subject of a town-hall meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at New Day Christian Church, 5221 E. Elm.
Some sort of altercation occurred between the unarmed teenager and the neighborhood watch captain, who’d been told by 911 dispatch to back off when he reported the teen walking through the gated community. In the end, Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense when he shot Martin to death. That prompted the Sanford Police Department to conclude that Florida’s “stand your ground” law protected Zimmerman from arrest, which set off a national firestorm and led to the ongoing state and federal investigations.
The nagging question for Kansas is whether its “stand-your-ground” measure was sufficiently vetted before being tucked into an anti-gang bill in 2006, overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature and reluctantly signed by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
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A 2008 article in the Kansas Law Review concluded that the Florida law contains a standard of reasonableness for use of force that the Kansas law lacks, though Kansas legislators used the Florida law as their model. In Florida, someone can “meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it necessary”; the Kansas law “does not expressly provide for – or limit – the use of deadly force,” wrote Annie Wells Shank, then a University of Kansas law student.
Activists calling for repeal say the Kansas law encourages vigilantism and racial profiling, and invites cases like the one in Florida. That state saw the rate of justifiable homicides triple in the first five years after the “stand your ground” law passed in 2005. When the Tampa Bay Times examined the law in 2010, it found it had been “used to excuse violence in deadly neighbor arguments, bar brawls, road rage, even a gang shoot-out” – situations at odds with assurances heard in Topeka in 2006 that a “stand your ground” law would be a major step forward in allowing Kansans to defend themselves.
In her Kansas Law Review article, Shank concluded that “the Legislature should define the terms in the statute so that they can be clearly and unambiguously applied” and “add a reasonableness or proportionality requirement.”
Those seem like good suggestions for Kansas lawmakers, now that the Martin case has the nation newly wary of the potential for a “stand your ground” law to be mistaken for a license to kill.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman