Editorial: Iowa has no use for 'stand your ground'


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Iowa lawmakers may reconsider a “stand your ground” law during next year’s legislative session. Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, reportedly has plans to reintroduce such legislation next year.

The recent trial of George Zimmerman has reignited a national debate over the value of such laws, which allow individuals to forcibly defend themselves in lieu of retreating, even when retreating from danger is a viable option.

Iowa’s current self-defense laws are sufficient; the state’s legislators should not pursue a stand-your-ground law.

During the last legislative session, Windschitl introduced a stand-your-ground bill that would have made it significantly easier to use deadly force against a perceived threat.

Current Iowa law allows people to “stand their ground” in certain scenarios. As it stands, Iowans are free to stand their ground in their homes and their places of work. In other scenarios, Iowans have a duty to retreat if it’s a possibility.

Windschitl’s bill would have expanded Iowans’ right to stand their ground to allow the use of reasonable, potentially deadly force in virtually any situation if it “is necessary to avoid injury or risk to one’s life or safety or the life or safety of another, even if an alternative course of action is available if the alternative entails a risk to life or safety or the life or safety of a third party.”

Furthermore, the bill “provides that a person may be wrong in the estimation of the danger or the force necessary to repel the danger as long as there is a reasonable basis for the belief and the person acts reasonably in the response to that belief.”

In other words, a reasonably imagined threat is sufficient rationale for the use of potentially deadly force at nearly any time in a stand-your-ground society. There is, of course, a basic right to self-defense that must be maintained within the law. But stand-your-ground laws lower the burden of proof for claimants of self-defense to frightening levels.

Consider the potential interplay of a stand-your-ground law with Iowa’s concealed-carry law. If the possibility exists that anyone could be carrying a concealed weapon, is it unreasonable to guess in the heat of a conflict, rightly or wrongly, that your opponent could “be a risk to [your] life or safety” without ever seeing a weapon?

While stand-your-ground laws are, at first glance, a no-brainer, the reality is that they create more problems than they solve. They create at least as much uncertainty in the law as they create peace of mind. Stand your ground gives such leeway to self-defenders that they become, ultimately, a justice system unto themselves.

It’s unsurprising, then, that these laws have led to a substantial increase in homicides. A 2012 study from Texas A&M University looked at data from 2000 to 2010 and found that stand-your-ground laws have had no deterrent effect on crime but have led to a “statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters.”

These laws essentially lower the risk of punishment typically associated with violence. The most crucial finding of the Texas A&M study: “lowering the threshold for the justified use of lethal force results in more of it.”

Stand-your-ground laws may also create a perverse incentive to kill in the heat of a conflict. The self-defense narrative of George Zimmerman, for example, was no doubt aided by the fact that the only other party who was a witness to the conflict is dead. In other words, deadly force may be the best option for self-defense because it comes with the added bonus of killing off the witness.

Self-defense is a basic right of all people, but self-defense without restrictions is little more than a license to kill. Iowa has no use for a stand-your-ground law.

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