Friday, April 20, 2012

Skagit County Law officers discuss "Gun Violence and Gun Laws: Stand Your Ground?"

Although Florida is thousands of miles away,  those of us in the Pacific North West could not help but wonder how gun violence, racism and the Castle or Stand Your Ground laws in the National news affect us.   So the Fidalgo Democrats asked Anacortes Police Chief Bonnie Bower and Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt to address these issues during their monthly meeting at the Anacortes Public Library April 17th.   

Chief Bower surprised me and maybe others with the long list of gun regulations enacted since our country was founded.   Sheriff Reichardt claimed that there had not been a strong correlation in the number of guns owned by WA state residents and gun violence.  He remarked that most violent crimes were committed with stolen guns.  WA state has extensive requirements for concealed weapons which seems to be effective in promoting responsible gun ownership. 

 The castle doctrine ( the right to defend yourself against an intruder into your home) is not a law but a principle from 17th century English common law.  WA State Senate Bill 5418 would make the castle doctrine into law.   Chief Bower credited the impetus to extend  the Castle doctrine  with  “Stand Your Ground” to the Clint Eastwood 1985 movie “Dirty Harry”  e.g “do something that will allow me to shoot you”.  The “Stand Your Ground” law promoted by the NRA varies from State to state.  In Florida the law allows immunity from arrest to the shooter if he/she meets certain criteria. This can take time for the police to verify.  This  caused a delay in police taking action against George Zimmerman in Florida after he shot an unarmed 17-year-old - Trayvon Martin.  In the Trayvon Martin case the relevant part of the statue says that “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked . . . has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.”  In WA there is “Stand Your Ground” case law which can be invoked during trial but, unlike the Florida statute , it does not provide immunity from arrest.  I had the impression from talking with Sheriff Reichardt that he favored the status quo in WA because immunity from arrest outside of the defendent's home or vehicle would require a complicated set of  determinations that would be better handled in court than by the police.  I too think these decisions would place a tremendous burden on the police to determine guilt or innocence . 

As I glanced at the audience most seemed to have pale faces, but there was some mention of excessive gun violence towards African American males and one woman pointed out an incident where a black man was convicted in spite of the castle doctrine when he was defending his home.  A few in attendance had open carry weapons at the meeting, even though others were wary of people wearing guns into a public library.  Several in the audience spoke passionately about the need to carry weapons.  One even said Trayvon Martin would have been better off had he a gun.  In which case,  I think,  it would have been harder to assume Trayvon’s  innocence and the injustice of  Zimmerman’s stalking. Both men would probably be dead. The wild west lives on in the heart of some. 

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