Trayvon Martin and Stand Your Ground laws fill headlines. It could have been my cousin. It could have been my friend. Could it have been someone I go to school with? Trayvon Martin was a high school student. I'm a high school student. He was wearing a hoodie. I wear hoodies. He was walking home. I walk home. He was shot and killed by someone who was not a police officer. The shooter is justifying his action under the Stand Your Ground laws in place in Florida. How could this happen? Could it happen here?
Even with this tragedy, Alaska's Legislature currently has a bill under consideration that would change our Stand Your Ground laws. Current law AS 11.81.335(b) says people have the right to use deadly force without retreating, on property they own, property they live on, where they are the "guest or express or implied agent of the owner, lessor, or resident," in a building where they work, or for protection of a child or member of the household. The law also states that when anywhere else if a person knows "with complete personal safety and with complete safety as to others being defended, [they] can avoid the necessity of using deadly force by leaving the area of the encounter," they cannot use deadly force. However, under the proposed law, AK HB 80, the use of deadly force in "any place where [they have] a right to be" without the need to retreat is authorized.
The current law is as it should be. The proposed law is morally reprehensible. If it is possible to avoid killing someone, shouldn't we avoid it? This is a rhetorical question; of course taking a life should be avoided if possible. The law now is that if there is no other option, we are allowed to inflict deadly force on a person; it's self-defense. To change it, so that we are not required to retreat if safe, moves it from self-defense to an act of aggression. Deadly force should only be used in an act of self-defense.
A person may have the right to be someplace; they also have the right the leave if it gets dangerous. The proposed bill implies that it is better to use deadly force on someone than to walk away. The idea that a person does not have to try to flee from a situation that is becoming dangerous and is then allowed to kill someone, is indefensible. Why would someone want to risk their own safety and not flee? And kill another person?
I have practiced martial arts for almost ten years. We are taught that there are steps we should go through before using deadly force on someone -- that we should use the least amount of force necessary to get out of a dangerous situation. First step is awareness, to look out for potentially dangerous situations. Second, if a dangerous situation arises, escape or flee. If unable to safely flee the situation, then use the least amount of physical and violent force necessary to escape. Only then, if all else fails, is deadly force implemented.
I once asked a fifth degree black belt and world champion martial artist what he would do if a group of men attacked him. He said he would run, and only if they caught him would he engage in a fight. The law should follow the same guidelines. Avoid the danger, leave the situation.
Heather Morton is a 10th-grade Connections/Skyview student.