Gunsmoke state: Another self-defense case tarnishes Florida

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Florida is fast becoming known for something other than sunshine, palm trees and retirees: now it is the place of senseless shootings and justice mocked. The responsibility for that rests with the state itself.

Nobody forced it to pass a self-defense law embodying the most extreme pro-gun ideology. In practice, its law is as close to a license to kill as anything James Bond could have thought up.

All that is required to use lethal force in Florida is to “reasonably believe” that such force is “necessary” to prevent death or great harm.  And as only a shooter can really know what he believes, good luck to judges and juries who suspect otherwise but don’t have the Stand Your Ground law’s presumptions on their side. While other states have similar statutes — Pennsylvania passed its “castle doctrine” law in 2011 — Florida has become the pin-up in the calendar of folly.

The cases have come with a grim rapidity. First, George Zimmerman, then 29, killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in “self-defense.” Some tried to make the dysfunctional Mr. Zimmerman into a hero and the victim into a thug, but it was the gunman who pursued the unarmed teenager doing nothing wrong. While the Stand Your Ground law wasn’t relied upon by the defense, its thinking permeated the case.

Then Curtis J. Reeves Jr., a 71-year-old former policeman, shot and killed Chad Oulson, 43, in an argument over texting in a movie theater. His excuse to be executioner was that he feared for his life when he was hit in the face with a bag of popcorn.

That case is still being adjudicated.

Now comes another incident, this time confirmed in tragic absurdity by a jury. Michael Dunn, 47, was convicted last week on three counts of second-degree attempted murder. But the jurors could not find him guilty of the premeditated murder of Jordan Davis, 17, in an argument over loud music. Dunn’s excuse was he believed Davis had a shotgun, which was never found and not seen by witnesses. It was enough that he thought he saw it.

The shooter in this case may be sentenced to 60 years in prison, but the point is the same: A bad law encourages the trigger-happy, and people are dying needlessly.

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