After Zimmerman, Let’s End Stand Your Ground

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer with Governor Bush at Stand Your Ground bill signing, April 2005In the wake of the jury verdict finding George Zimmerman not guilty in his killing of Trayvon Martin, many in the media have pushed the line that Florida's notorious "Stand Your Ground" (SYG) law played no role in the trial. They couldn't be more wrong.

After the National Rifle Association pushed through changes in Florida's murder laws in 2005, the jury instructions in homicide cases were also changed. According to the NRA's lead lobbyist, Marion Hammer, the powerful pro-gun group reviewed the new jury instructions before they were final, noting she "looked them over and the attorneys at NRA headquarters have looked them over and they appear to be pretty faithful" to the law she helped conceive. The instructions, Hammer said, reflected the NRA's call to remove the "duty to retreat" and recognize a new right to "stand your ground."

At the end of Zimmerman's trial last week, the judge instructed the jury, with language mandated by the SYG law, on the grounds for justifiable homicide. Here is exactly what the jury was told to consider in its deliberations:

"If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

Even though a Florida law-enforcement agency had asked Zimmerman to not pursue Martin -- that he didn't need to follow him -- in the end, it didn't matter: The NRA had successfully changed the law in Zimmerman's favor. That rainy night in Florida, one man was armed with a deadly weapon and looking for trouble and a kid was walking home from the store to watch a basketball game. But according to the law, Zimmerman had no duty to retreat. He could follow Trayvon anywhere he "had a right to be."

And what about Martin's "right to be"? What about his right to stand his ground, or to defend himself from an angry man with a gun? The jury instructions said nothing on that.

That is not all that SYG changed. It also put the NRA's thumb on the scale of justice if the family of a shooting victim sues the shooter. The SYG law says that if the court finds that the shooter gets civil immunity in the case -- based on his right to stand his ground and not retreat -- then the plaintiff must pay the killer's attorney's fees, court costs, and lost wages. Any grieving family seeking to hold a shooter accountable will have to think twice about the financial risks of a civil lawsuit. And that's exactly the outcome the NRA intended.

That's not just the law in Florida. It's become the law in more than two dozen states after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of state legislators and corporate lobbyists that is funded by some of the biggest corporations in the world, ratified the NRA's bill, signed into law by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as a national model. As the Center for Media and Democracy has documented on its and, the NRA's Hammer took that bill to a closed-door meeting of an ALEC Task Force co-chaired by Wal-Mart and, in a secret vote by corporate lobbyists and legislators, it was approved as a national model.

Since the controversy over Zimmerman's shooting of Martin arose last year, ALEC has tried to distance itself from this legacy. ALEC disbanded its criminal justice task force and said it was going to focus on economic issues; however, the NRA had the biggest booth at its annual convention last year, and the annual NRA shooting event with ALEC lawmakers and lobbyists continued. There is no evidence, moreover, that ALEC has expended substantial resources to get the SYG laws repealed. Meanwhile, the NRA has vowed to defend SYG and try to thwart its repeal.

But these laws should be repealed. Jurors should not be instructed that homicide can be justified in cases like Zimmerman's on the grounds that a guy with a gun has no duty to retreat. Obviously, a man with a gun has the upper hand in facing someone who is unarmed. And families shouldn't have their legal recourse effectively taken away if a loved one is killed.

In 21st-century America, you shouldn't be allowed to get away with murder.

This article was first published in Politico. Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy ( and She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, where she handled gun policy.

Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is President of the Board of the Center for Media and Democracy and President of True North Research. She is a well-known researcher, writer, and public speaker. Her research and analysis have been cited by every major paper in the country and featured in critically acclaimed books and documentaries, including Ava Du Vernay’s award-winning film, “The 13th,” Bill Moyers’s “United States of ALEC,” and Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously.”



To do a thorough job, they should have seen to it that a judge could no longer tell the jury to "consider all the circumstances" in a case, which here include Zimmerman's mutterings and his pursuit of Martin against the dispatcher's instruction. Just zoom in on the moment when the defendant started to feel afraid, and "circumstances surrounding" are nullified, including whatever of his own reckless actions may have may have put him in that situation. Leaving in that "circumstances surrounding" instruction makes the whole thing needlessly messy. Without that instruction, jurors wouldn't have to feel conflicted and the talking heads and the public wouldn't have so much to argue about. Case closed. :-)

Lisa Graves remarks in her editoral show an ignornce of experience about the reality of the real world. She talks about Martin's right to defend himself from an angry man with a gun. How does she know that Zimmerman was an angry man with a gun? Did she know Zimmerman or ever talk with him? Was she born with the "psychology gene" that she can do psychology by ESP? She is an amazing woman who should by studied by Homeland Security for her attributes which would really help in the fight against terrorism. I was held-up twice by black teenagers who had guns. I did not fight but did the smart thing of going passive and complying with what they wanted. As an Honorably Discharged Veteran, I understand weapons. Does Lisa Graves? How many times has she fired a weapon and been in combat situations? Any situation involving a gun is a combat situation. How come Lisa Graves never enlisted, like I did, to server her country since she is so brave? She thinks she knows what is going-on but the reality is really different. She needs a reality check. The only information I have about what happened is what I have read in the biased news media by under-educated, bigoted journalists who have prejudiced this case from the first when NBC TV News released a biased and edited transcript of the phone call Zimmerman made to the police. Then there is the issue of only showing a photo of Martin when he was twelve. How come I've never seen a photo of him as a seventeen year old or with his girlfriend? I'm sure his cell phone had a camera. How tall was Martin and what did he weight? He wasn't shot in the back was he? Where did the bullet enter his body? Were there powder burns on his clothes and where were they? I have never read any of this in the news media. Why not? From what I read, Martin was on his cell phone talking to his girlfriend. Why didn't he use his phone to call his father to pick him up in his car? Why didn't Martin call the police himself? Why didn't Martin go to one of the houses and knock-on-the-door or ring the bell and ask the residents to call the police? I'm sure if the residents heard that a man was stalking their community, they would have readily called the police. Zimmerman was a fool for carrying a gun. Like Lisa Graves he thought he knew was he was doing but the reality turned-out to be really different. Zimmerman said that he lost sight of Martin and Martin came-up behind him. There is photographic evidence that Zimmerman was attacked and the police did give him first aid. Was that the result of Martin standing his ground by coming-up behind Zimmerman to show Zimmerman that he was a tough guy, a real man? Why not ask Lisa Graves she has ESP, doesn't she? No one will ever know, not even Lisa Graves, mind-reader, what happened because Martin died and we only have Zimmerman's story but from the incomlete reports which I've read, Martin contributed to his own death and that is not placing the blame on Martin. I could have resited the two black teenage gangs that held me up at gun point but I didn't resist which is why I am here today. What would Lisa Graves have done or advised: stand your ground? As a Veteran, I took an oath to defend the Constitution which gives us our system of justice and that system says that we have our day in court. Zimmerman had his day in court which we all deserve and he was found "not gulity." Leave the man alone. Both Zimmerman and Martin were fools in their own ways. I am sorry that Martin is dead but Martin had reasonable options which would have saved is life. Even if confronted by Zimmerman, he could have gone passive, like in did, and saved his life. Isn't that what it is all about or was he acting like a stupid teenager who thought, like Lisa Graves, that he was going to prevail like in the movies?

Was George born with a psychology gene? So two black teens can speak for all black teens? How many times did George fire a weapon? Could he of done the smart thing? Did George serve or enlist to serve his country? Trayvon was 5'11, 158lbs. George was 5'7', 204lbs. George shot him in the heart point blank with a hollow point bullet. Black folks don't call police, besides he thought he lost him. He had ear buds in his ears while on the phone. George lived there for 4 years, there were only 3 streets. He was the Neighborhood Watch Captain. You mean to tell me he didn't know where to catch Trayvon. First aid for two scratches on his head that he said was repeatedly banged on the concrete. 25 - 30 times. No x-rays to verify his nose was ever broken. What we don't know is who threw the first punch, all we have is George's many tales. So Trayvon could of and should of had the right to stand his ground. What was your state of mind at 17 and 28? You should know if someone is scared to death, they will fight. Now re-write you story from a black person perspective. It is so easy to blame the victim. George's story changed so much and made no logical sense. Any one with an ounce of common sense would know he was lying or maybe not.

As you can see from my earlier post when this tragedy came to light, I was pretty sure it was a case of an over zealous security guard wanna-be shooting a kid for being black. After all of the evidence has been presented, I have to ask how you think forcing people to run away will solve this. How far should a person have to retreat? How far do you personally feel you should have to retreat when being attacked? What if you can't retreat such as being cornered or subdued? That's the problem with not having a stand your ground law. I bet you wouldn't want to have to run from a criminal, if you even had the chance to get away. Since Zimmerman was on his back, he couldn't really retreat, could he? Your article is disingenuous in the calling of Mr. Martin a kid and referring to a 911 operator as a law enforcement agency. Can a 911 operator make a person stop committing a crime? The only trouble that Zimmerman was looking for was the criminal kind that were causing problems in his neighborhood, which he apparently found. If Mr. Martin was concerned for his safety, he should have called 911, just like Zimmerman did. Instead, he attacked someone and got what he deserved.

Thank you for pointing out how inaccurate this article is!

If he has a gun he should be able to control the situation and walk away. Murder is murder and karma is what they say she is.

What?! You're 17. You are emotionally still a boy. You are in your daddy's complex. You are talking to a good friend, making jokes, talking trash 'cause it's a girl. Somebody is clearly following you. In a TRUCK! Now they're out of the truck, in your face with a gun! I do NOT for one minute believe a coward like Zimmerman kept his gun under wraps. He intended to scare the F--- out of this boy, or kill this boy -- and this was clearly a boy because there was no way in God's name Zimmerman didn't know this was a boy, also, just like you and I would have known. Had Trayvon been a MAN, this coward would have never left the safety of his truck. Guaranteed. His finger pushed just a little too hard on that trigger, and he quickly concocted a story, just like he has always done in the past, especially to escape the wrath of an unforgiving father for careless and thoughtless offenses in the past that could sully the reputation of his life as a judge. And judging from Zimmerman's quick and easy way with a lie, his father may have cared more for his community reputation than the erosion of his son's moral standing. And fear. At any rate, no way can ANYBODY on the face of the earth justify this child's death, ESPECIALLY at the mercy of this trigger-happy, known coward and liar.

"and referring to a 911 operator as a law enforcement agency. Can a 911 operator make a person stop committing a crime?" You're right. Everyone knows 911 operators are the NRA. That operator had a duty to tell Zimmerman to go ahead and shoot Martin. Seriously, a 911 operator not representing law enforcement? You gun nuts just keep getting nuttier all the time!

This is condoned "murder" in the state of Florida? A woman chooses abortion and she goes to jail for stopping the development of a zygote? What gives here? I knew in my heart that the minute Zimmerman was charged after some 40+ days that he would be acquitted, if brought to trial. Why? Because I understood what "stand your ground" was about. It was and is about protecting the "shooter" from culpability, and in this case the defense was allowed to put Trayvon on trial and he not only lost the case, he lost his life. What a travesty! Tom Gutridge

I so agree with you Tom. Condoning murder and then expecting the victim's family to pay for the perpetrator's lawyer is SICKENING. It looks like the NRA has invoked a propensity for violence among gun owners. Any entity that would back such a law is clearly looking out for their own best interest on the 'greed agenda'. This is a way to sell more guns and ammunition. It's a way to get rid of the lower class and minorities. After all, how many middle and upper class citizens are killed by guns ? There's many more agendas behind this crap. This whole idea should NEVER have been given the chance to become law ! What kind of life form thought this up? They sure as hell weren't human beings !