Friday, March 30, 2012

Stand Your Ground: A Further Analysis

Earlier today, I posted Stand Your Ground: An Analysis. I actually wrote that post yesterday, but forgot to press the Publish button. Anyway, this morning on the way to work, I heard a story (well, a series of stories) on NPR that got me thinking again about Indiana’s “stand your ground” law and its implications for certain situations. The stories dealt with the movie Bully (including a review) and its R rating (followed by the decision to release the film unrated). And from there, I started thinking about the victims of bullying. And the extent to which they have a right to stand their ground.

So, please take a moment and reread this provision from Indiana’s stand your ground statute and then I’m going to offer a scenario for you to think about:

(c) A person is justified in using reasonable force against any other person to protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person:

(1) is justified in using deadly force; and

(2) does not have a duty to retreat;

if the person reasonably believes that that force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the person or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony. No person in this state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting the person or a third person by reasonable means necessary.

Now, with that in mind, consider the following scenario:

Johnny is a freshman in high school. Every school day is miserable for Johnny as he is the target of near-constant bullying because he is gay. The name-calling he can live with (sticks and stones and all that…), but it is the physical abuse that has left him considering suicide. Sometimes, it’s as simple as being pushed from behind or shoved sideways into the walls or lockers, but other times it involves being punched or hit. Changing before gym class is always a disaster as some of the other boys push and hit him. He can’t even try to take a shower or use the restrooms at school anymore. His wallet and lunch money have been stolen countless times, his lunch tray upended into his lap, his backpack stolen, his cellphone stomped on. He’s told the school but the administration doesn’t really seem to care that much, so long as nobody gets too seriously hurt. After all, boys will be boys. Oh, and not to mention, that this is a state that refused to enhance protections from bullying for gay youth out of a faux concern for the First Amendment rights of the bulliers. Johnny has told his parents, too; after all, it’s hard to hide a black eye. But they don’t really seem to have come to terms with his being gay and haven’t wanted to rock the community boat, so to speak. So day after day, Johnny goes to school and wonders whether today will be the day that someone finally hurts him badly enough to send him to the hospital … or whether today will be the day he gets up the guts to … check out. And then one day, Johnny finds his father’s gun. He puts it in his backpack and takes it to school. And when one of those bullies shoves Johnny into a locker, but before the punch comes, Johnny pulls out that gun and kills the bully. And maybe a few of the other bullies who were hanging around, cheering on their leader.

Is Johnny covered by Indiana’s stand your ground statute?

And how will those who advocate laws like the stand your ground statute react to this kind of situation?

Once again, I’m not advocating violence. I don’t want the Johnnies of the world to take guns to school or to resort to violence to respond to the epidemic of bullying that adults and schools seem impotent (or unwilling) to check. But when we think about the stories we hear over and over again about gay teens (and other teens, not just gays) who have been bullied to the point that they feel that they have no option other than suicide, shouldn’t we worry?

I suspect that most bullied teens have never heard of laws like stand your ground … at least they’d never heard of these kinds of laws until the Trayvon Martin story went viral. But now those youth, many of whom are growing into their own forms of social consciousness may have heard of these sorts of laws, may have heard about states giving people the right to use deadly force in apparent self-defense. And one of these kids may realize that, hey!, I can put an end to this bullying and I won’t be punished. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised when we hear of a bullied teen deciding to point the gun, not at his or her own forehead, but at the bully who made life so intolerable. And then the question will become whether that act was justified, whether the force was reasonable, whether laws like “stand your ground” are equally applicable to the victims of bullying.

Is that a road down which we really want to walk?

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