Stand your ground, or retreat ?

By Sahra Ali
November 12, 2013


It’s a law that may ensure the safety of one, or may ultimately lead to the death of another. Is the stand your ground law a law that allows law-abiding citizens the right to defend themselves in the face of imminent danger, or one that gives angry vigilantes an excuse to kill? A panel discussion hosted by the philosophy club, held at the Mansion dinning room on Monday, Nov. 11,  took on the debate.

Arguing in favor of the statue were Vivian C. Smith, an assistant professor in the sociology and criminology department, and Danton Moyer, a sophomore political science major and philosophy minor.

Moyer presented his debate by quoting from John Locke and stating that “you are bound to preserve humankind as well as yourself.” Moyer said that by taking away a law such as the stand your ground law the criminals are then empowered thus leaving the victim defenseless.

“There are so many facets, and so many layers to this law,” Smith said.

The law made headlines over the past few years because of  the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case, and has since caught media attention all over the world.

According to The Washington Post the Florida statute  allows people to stand their ground, instead of retreating if they reasonably believe doing so is necessary to “prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

Smith argued that according to the law if the “bad people” are armed then the”good people” should have the right to defend themselves and concluded her debate by saying “It may not be that law that is the problem it may be the people.”

On the other side of the debate were assistant professor in the sociology and criminology department Tamarah Smith and junior psychology and sociology major Samantha Trumbo who took a firm stand against the stand your ground laws.

Dr. Tamarah Smith set her argument into motion by asking “how do we detect harm and determine whether or not something is threatening?”  Tamara Smith carries her argument on by using social psychology. Schemas help us to very quickly move through all of the stimuli in the world. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a schema is a mental codification of experience that includes a particular organized way of perceiving cognitively and responding to a complex situation or set of stimuli.

Tamarah Smith proceeded and said that stereotyping is a classic example of this, and through our associations we learn what kind of characteristics are associated with different groups of people creating broader categories and we then use these groupings, “our brains become quickly bogged down by all of the overwhelming stimuli in the environment,” said  Tamarah Smith “just as when you don’t have enough memory in your computer it slows down and stops functioning it is the same process” so to avoid this we quickly grab answers from our database of preconceived ideas.

“We then start to confirm these biases, every time we find something that matches them we reinforce them,” said Tamarah Smith.  This may then lead to one’s prejudices to act in a deadly manner, and then use the stand your ground laws as a way to justify their actions.

“Who is perceived to be a threat? This requires us to examine gender, race and ethnicity that come into play with the schema,” Trumbo said.  “In our country where everything is ‘equal’ inequality still exists perhaps because of history.” The question comes into play as to whether or not one acts in self defense or kills at will.

According to Sean Sullivan  of the Washington Post since Florida became the first state to pass an explicit stand your ground law, more than 30 others have passed some version of it.



Sahra Ali

Communications major @ Cabrini College.

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