The passage of a string of state “stand your ground” self-defense laws in recent years produced a partisan divide on Capitol Hill, with Democrats saying the laws have led to increased gun violence, often targeting minorities, while Republicans questioning the need for a hearing on the issue at all.
The laws came into the national spotlight with the February 2012 shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder charges earlier this year, although the state’s Stand Your Ground statute was not directly involved in the verdict.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who chaired a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing Tuesday on the laws, said the laws encourage individuals to use violent and sometimes lethal forms of self-defense instead of exhausting all other peaceful options. When the “stand your ground” defense is used in prosecutions, the verdicts tend to discriminate against minorities, Mr. Durbin said.
According to Mr. Durbin, 17 percent of homicides involving white shooters and black victims were justified under “stand your ground” compared to 1 percent of cases involving black shooters with white victims.
“These laws allow shooters to walk away in shocking situations,” he said.
Mr. Cruz said the bigger problem to address was the Obama administration’s failure to prosecute real gun violence cases. He declared “indefensible” a 27 percent decline in gun crime prosecution in the past year, coupled with only 44 criminal prosecutions of the some 48,000 fugitives or individuals with criminal convictions who tried to purchase guns.
A “stand your ground” law states that a person may use deadly force in defending himself — without the duty to retreat when facing a reasonable perceived threat. The laws expand on the so-called “castle doctrine,” which restricts the use of self-defense more closely to the defense of one’s home or property.
Among those testifying Tuesday was Sybrina Fulton, the mother ofTrayvon Martin, who described how her son had simply gone to the store to get a drink and some candy when he encountered Mr. Zimmerman on his way home and was shot.
“He was not going to buy cigarettes or bullets or condoms or any items of that nature,” she said. “This shows his mentality, he was not the criminal that the person who shot and killed him thought he was.”