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A Weak Argument Against “Stand Your Ground”

Updated: Apr 2

Under what circumstances should an Arkansan be able to use deadly force in self-protection? This question will be discussed in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Rep. Aaron Pilkington has pre-filed legislation to expand the state’s “stand your ground” law to include areas outside the home.

It appears that Rep. Pilkington will not get the support of Representative-elect Denise Garner, who recently tweeted this:

“Because prosecutors aren’t out 2 prosecute ppl who are justifiably using self-defense, what the bill really does is protect ppl who AREN’T justifiably using self-defense & are up 2 some other sort of NO GOOD. ” Lou Tobin, Ex Dir., OH Asso. Prosecting [sic] Attys #No2ARStandYourGround

This is an incredibly weak rationale upon which to base opposition to any law. In essence it says that because prosecutors are good people, we should not worry about how they use their authority. Its implication is that, without a stand your ground law, prosecutors could prosecute someone for justifiable self-defense, but they would never do this. It asks us to trust the intentions of prosecutors to ensure that no one is ever unjustly prosecuted.

That is absurd.

I have the utmost respect for prosecutors. I am friends with prosecuting attorneys. My wife served as a prosecutor for two years. I know the tough job they have. I also know that they are human. As such, prosecutors make mistakes and unintentionally engage in unjust prosecutions. In some instances, prosecutors are bad people who abuse their authority to unjustly put people in jail.

It is very easy to think of cases where these situations have taken place. Consider the case of the Central Park 5, where it appears that prosecutors formed a conclusion that five youths raped a woman and ignored contrary evidence in order to obtain a conviction that was later vacated. Or remember the Duke Lacrosse case, in which prosecutor Mike Nifong appeared to pursue rape charges for political gain.

There are numerous other cases of wrongful prosecution which undercut the assertion that we can always trust prosecutors to do the right thing. Because prosecutors are human and (like the rest of us) will sometimes make mistakes or act in a biased manner, we need institutional safeguards to protect the accused. A “stand your ground” law provides a further layer of protection for someone accused of shooting someone else in self-defense.

While I support the concept behind “stand your ground” laws, one can make principled arguments against them. However, it is a weak and dangerous argument to assert that we don’t need a “stand your ground law” because prosecutors would never prosecute someone unjustly. Indeed, the American tradition of limited government rests on the theory that men are not angels, and therefore government must contain protections against those who misuse their authority. If Rep. Garner’s tweet is representative of the kinds of arguments that she will be making once she takes her seat, then she won’t have much to add to the legislature.

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