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‘Stand your ground' law is a reasonable stance

A violent confrontation in Florida between two young men, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, resulted in Martin's death at Zimmerman's hand. The justice system has not yet processed that case to its conclusion.

But it has society thinking - always a good thing.

A national organization, the Second Chance Campaign, wants West Virginia to repeal its "stand your ground" law, at issue in the Florida tragedy.

As Travis Crum of the Gazette reported, common law older than the state itself has long given people the right to protect their homes with reasonable force. When legislators made it official in 2008, they permitted the use of justifiable force away from home.

At least 26 states have passed such laws since 2005, in part to protect gun owners against civil suits.

Second Chance contends that such laws create racial bias and present difficulties for prosecutors.

"This law escalates everyday conflicts into deadly confrontations and makes it difficult to prosecute when someone makes a self-defense claim," said spokesman Christopher Brown.

How exactly "stand your ground" laws would necessarily cause either effect is unclear.

State Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when the law passed, isn't buying it. In fact, it sounds as if state lawmakers thought through the issue carefully.

"The West Virginia version does give prosecutorial discretion, in that it has to be 'reasonable and proportional,' " Kessler said. "It's hard to define under each case, but the prosecutor makes the ultimate decision whether to charge or not."

Should the Wheeling pharmacy employee who shot and killed an armed robber in May have been charged with homicide and exposed to a civil suit?

Should the Brooke County store owner who shot and killed an unarmed man in a December break-in have been prosecuted for homicide?

Prosecutors decided against it in both cases.

In two other cases, people who defended themselves faced murder charges that were later dropped.

Do some people overreact in the face of an imminent threat and kill wrongfully?. Probably so.

West Virginia's decision to empower prosecutors to use their best judgment of what is right in each case was a wise approach.

Police can't be everywhere. People have to be able to protect themselves in emergencies.

 


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