Florida was the first state to make its no-retreat law apply outside the home (Indiana is now one of at least 13 others), creating an automatic assumption that the use of deadly force is justified in warding off an attacker in just about any public place. The gun-control lobby warned that we would see a shooot-first mentality and a wave of vigilante justice. Instead, what seems to have happened is that prosecutors say they are confused by the laws and think others are, too. In Kentucky, a man accused of murder was offered a plea deal because prosecutors were afraid jurors wouldn't be able to understand the law. And in Florida, a prosecutor brought a case against a man who defended himself against three attackers, even though the prosecutor thought the guy was probably in the right:
In, Borden faced up to life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of murder and attempted murder.
One of his would-be attackers, 21-year-old Juan Mendez, admitted in testimony at Borden's trial that the three men in the Jeep planned to "rough him up." A baseball bat was also found in the vehicle.
Prosecutor Craig Williams argued that Borden exceeded justified force when he continued firing after shooting the driver and stopping the Jeep. But Borden's defense argued that he did not have to retreat, citing the new law.
Williams said he pursued the charges because he thought a jury needed to decide the case. But he privately wondered how he would have behaved in the same situation. When Borden was acquitted, the prosecutor was almost relieved.
I suspect there really isn't as much confusion about these laws as officials claim there is. There is, mostly, just a reluctance to accept them as written. If you tell ordinary citizens you are moving the burden of proof away from them in their violent encounters with predators, you are also telling police and prosecutors that they haven't been making people feel safe, and that's a hard thing to deal with. But the reality is that a lot of people don't feel safe. Some of the officials' concerns have merit -- there really hadn't been a lot of people charged who seemed legitimately engaged in self-defense, so these stand-your-ground laws can be seen as solutions in search of a problem. They are more about symbolism than substance.
But symbolism can be important. Having the right to pursue happiness doesn't mean much if you don't feel safe on leaving your front door. The right to self-protection is basic -- we should understand that it is our first line of defense, not the last, guaranteed only by a criminal justice system that doens't always work the way it should.