Recently, President Obama has called for a review of Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which removes a “duty to retreat” and allows one to use force, including deadly force, in a public place if one reasonably fears for his/her life.
But, according to an article in the Washington Times, when Obama was a state senator in Illinois, he voted to expand the state’s SYG law. Before one examines the validity of that claim, perhaps it’s best to revisit what the president said last Friday about SYG.
“It may be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations, confrontations, and tragedies as we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations,” Obama said.
Obama went on to acknowledge that SYG was not explicitly mentioned during the Zimmerman trial, which ended with the acquittal of the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, but said that the self-defense law should still be examined because the message it sends to society.
“If we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed has a right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from the situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?”
He then posed the question of whether Martin would have been justified in shooting Zimmerman if he had felt threatened when Zimmerman followed him in a car, concluding that “if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.”
So, it’s pretty clear that Obama has a problem with the SYG law, which would make him a hypocrite if he did vote to expand Illinois’s “Stand Your Ground” law — so, did he?
The short answer is: yes. But there’s way more to the story, so it’s not a clear-cut case of hypocrisy and/or flip-flopping.
In 2004, Obama voted for S.B. 2386, a bill that would shield a person who “was attacked from being sued in civil court by perpetrators or their estates when a ’stand your ground’ defense is used in protecting his or her person, dwelling or other property,” as the Illinois Review noted.
Essentially, one could use force, including deadly force, if one reasonably feared for his/her life in a public place and be immune from civil lawsuits. That was the essence of S.B. 2386.
What’s also important to note is that, under the Criminal Code of 1961, Illinois self-defense laws never included a “duty to retreat.” In other words, the laws on the books were primitive versions of the current SYG laws. S.B. 2386 just made clear that one could (a) defend himself beyond the home to protect a family member, real property (other than a dwelling) and personal property and (b) avoid civil lawsuits.
The other important point is that SYG laws are not necessarily weapons related. As Reason.com noted:
Contrary to the implication, “stand your ground” laws are not weapon-specific; they eliminate the duty to retreat for someone attacked in a public place, regardless of how he chooses to defend himself. In fact, a state could recognize a right to stand your ground even while prohibiting people from carrying guns in public. That is what Illinois has done for at least half a century.
So, Obama voted for a law that did indeed strengthen the state’s self-defense laws — though, at the time, the Land of Lincoln outright banned lawful gun owners from carrying a concealed firearm. This is, of course, changing following a federal court ruling that the state’s ban on concealed carry was unconstitutional. In approximately nine months, law-abiding Illinoisans will be allowed to carry a firearm for self-defense outside the home.
S.B. 2386 went on to clear both Democratically controlled chambers, the state House and Senate, by a near unanimous votes. As the National Review noted, at that time Stand Your Ground laws weren’t a partisan issue. They were merely viewed as common sense self-defense laws by both Democrats and Republicans.