The parents of a slain Florida teen want to change self-defense laws around the country that do not require one to retreat in the face of imminent danger.
Lucia McBath and Ron Davis, the parents of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was fatally shot at a gas station in November 2012, want to put pressure on federal and state lawmakers to repeal ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws that remove a “duty to retreat” and allow one to use force, including deadly force, in a public place if one reasonably fears for his/her life.
Michael Dunn, 47, the man who killed Davis when he opened fired into an SUV in which the teen was sitting along with some friends, was found guilty a few weeks ago on three counts of attempted second-degree murder (for the passengers in the car), but the fourth count Dunn was facing – first-degree murder – ended in a mistrial with a hung jury.
Dunn claimed that before he fired ten times into the Dodge Durango, killing Davis, either Davis or one of his friends in the vehicle pointed the barrel of a shotgun at him.
“I thought I was going to be killed,” Dunn said, implying that it was a simple matter of self-defense, while on the stand during his trial.
However, authorities found no firearm in the SUV following an investigation into the shooting.
Following Dunn’s conviction, legal scholars have debated how relevant SYG was during the proceedings and to the eventual verdict.
Second Amendment scholar and law professor David Kopel argued that SYG did not play a factor, specifically with respect to the hung jury on the first-degree murder charge, noting that the “three convictions for second-degree murder show that the jury had determined there was no self-defense; ergo, jury confusion about self-defense was not the reason why the jury deadlocked on first-degree murder.”
Though, others like Nicole Flatow at ThinkProgress argued that SYG was important, pointing out that Dunn’s defense attorney Corry Strolla mentioned the statute during his closing argument, “‘His honor will further tell you that if Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal 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.’”
While legal scholars will continue to debate the relevancy of SYG to the case, Davis’s parents have their minds made up.
“We want America and the world to acknowledge that this act was unconscionable,” said 60-year-old Davis to USA Today in discussing his son’s death. “You [Michael Dunn] should not have shot our 17-year-old baby. He was defenseless. He had no gun or anything. You took it upon yourself to end his life and we want you to pay for that.”
“If there were no witnesses to what happened, my son’s killer could just walk free,” Davis added. “The scales of justice are not in our favor.”
Both Ron Davis and McBath, who is an active member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, plan on attending a Tallahassee protest against SYG laws in March.
However, at least one man intimately familiar with the law is not convinced that holding rallies against it will get at the root of the causes of gun violence.
“Focusing on stand your ground might be self defeating,” said Mark O’Mara, who represented neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, the man responsible for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“Two and a half years ago, nobody considered stand-your-ground to be a racially motivated statute,” continued O’Mara. “The problem is Zimmerman hits and 100 millions Americans believe it’s a cowboy statute.”