In the recent case in Florida, an unarmed African-American boy, Trayvon Martin, was pursued and murdered by an Hispanic man, George Zimmerman, who claims that the boy was threatening him. The man is claiming the protection of the state’s “stand-your-ground” law. In a jaw dropping failure to do their duty, the police failed to question the man or investigate him. This tragic event has brought to light the dangerous proliferation of these laws around the country.
“Stand Your Ground” laws are a perversion of the Castle Doctrine, an ancient legal principle that states persons have no obligation to retreat when their home is attacked, and, if necessary they can use lethal force to protect themselves and their “castle.” Stand-your-ground laws allow persons to use deadly force when they feel or think they are being threatened in areas other than their home. They have no obligation to retreat and can legally use deadly force against the person they think is threatening them. The law further provides immunity from criminal prosecution or civil action for using deadly force in those circumstances. Basically, such laws are licenses to kill.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have worked together to introduce and promote these laws in state legislatures. Since the 2005 passage of Florida’s law, similar statutes have been passed in 26 other states. It’s easy to trace the origin of the Florida law to ALEC because the wording of its model legislation and the Florida law is almost identical:
ALEC’s Castle Doctrine Act model legislation:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place [other than their dwelling, residence, or vehicle] where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
The Florida statute:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
ALEC: a right wing, corporate funded legislation factory
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) describes itself as the largest “membership association of state legislators,” but that attribution doesn’t tell the whole story. Two percent of its revenues come from legislator’s membership dues, and 98% comes from corporations and corporate foundations. Through ALEC, in the dark and behind closed doors, corporations hand Republican state legislators the pre-written “model” bills they want passed.
ALEC has hundreds of corporate members, including non-profits like the NRA, and the National Right to Life Committee. A few governmental agencies belong, including the Department of Defense. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. Conservative Republican legislators then bring these proposals home and introduce them in statehouses under their own name, as if the bills were their own creation, without disclosing that ALEC and corporations wrote the bills. Republican dominated legislatures pass them and Republican governors sign them into law.
Most ALEC legislation relies on racism, misogyny and paranoia to promote corporate ideas. They sell their bills with attractive words like “freedom,” “common sense” or “self defense,” and macho phrases like “stand-you-ground.” In legislation designed to limit women’s access to contraception and abortion, they coin words like “personhood” to describe a zygote. It could be said that the purpose of corporate supported ALEC legislation is to move the nation to the right in whatever way it can. ALEC legislation is designed to enhance corporate bottom lines. Concepts like the “public good” are irrelevant. And what better way to promote a corporate, right wing agenda than to provide ready made bills for Republican legislators and generous campaign donations for those who push them. It’s a win-win relationship.
ALEC writes model legislation to undermine environmental regulations and deny climate change; support school privatization; undercut health care reform; deny women healthcare including contraception and abortion; defund unions and limit their political influence; restrain legislatures’ abilities to raise revenue through taxes; mandate election laws that disenfranchise voters; increase incarceration to benefit the private prison industry, promote the oil and defense industries, and promote gun sales. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of its model bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five enacted into law.
If anything good comes out of Trayvon Martin’s death, it will be that a) the man who killed him, George Zimmerman, will be brought to justice, b) these dangerous stand-your-ground laws will be repealed, and c) ALEC legislation, written in secrecy, will be exposed as cynically promoting the bottom lines of corporations over the public good.