The story begins in February, when Cody Devine, 34, and Janai Wilson, 29, apparently went, without permission, to a vacant rental property near Reno, Nevada, owned by Wayne Burgarello. According to prosecutors, Burgarello, 73, found Devine and Wilson resting on a floor. He shot them. Burgarello maintains he was acting in self-defense under Nevada’s Stand Your Ground law.
The case is an important reminder about the debate over the controversial laws. Thirty-three states have adopted some form of Stand Your Ground law, according to the American Bar Association. Ten states have introduced bills to repeal or scale back their Stand Your Ground laws this year, and 13 states have pending legislation to strengthen or enact such laws.
Florida was the first state to enact such legislation, in 2005, under then Gov. Jeb Bush, who is currently a Republican presidential candidate. Florida essentially immunizes a person from criminal prosecution or civil action, provided he proves the use of force was necessary to prevent death or serious harm.
(Map: Courtesy Al Jazeera.com)
For years, much of the United States has followed the “castle doctrine,” which basically holds that a person’s home is her castle, which gives that person the right to defend her home through the use of deadly force—and without legal consequences. The National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council—a group of conservative lawmakers—began a push for legislation that ultimately would upend the castle doctrine.
Stand Your Ground laws provide more latitude to invoke self-defense as grounds for killing someone posing an imminent threat. Typically, such laws permit the use of deadly force outside the home against a perpetrator, regardless of whether the perpetrator is armed.
It’s worth remembering that much of the country was introduced to Stand Your Ground laws after the 2012 fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black youth.
Stand Your Ground advocates—particularly the gun industry—argue that the laws are necessary protection from violent criminals. But critics—gun control groups, civil rights activists, and even some law enforcement officials—maintain that they fuel a trigger-happy culture. The renewed debate over Stand Your Ground comes at a remarkable point in our thinking about guns: For the first time in nearly two decades, a majority of Americans say it’s important to protect citizens’ right to own guns.
At a time when the killing of unarmed African Americans by police has given birth to the Black Lives Matter movement, Stand Your Ground critics point to racial fear and bias in the law’s implementation, with a particular appeal to white jurors.
In states with Stand Your Ground laws, justifiable homicides have increased 85 percent, and the shooting of a black person by a white person is deemed justifiable 17 percent of the time. Meanwhile, the shooting of whites by blacks is found justifiable in only 1 percent of cases.