Michael Dunn

Did Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' Law 'Empower' Michael Dunn to Kill Jordan Davis?

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Senate Judiciary Committee

Yesterday I explained why attempts to draw a connection between the shooting of Trayvon Martin and Florida's "stand your ground" self-defense law are unpersuasive. That post was prompted by the testimony that Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother, delivered at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. But the subcommittee also heard from Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, a black teenager who was killed last year in circumstances where a duty to retreat might have made a difference. Michael David Dunn, a middle-aged white man, shot Davis at a Jacksonville gas station after a dispute over loud music. Here is how McBath describes the incident:

My son Jordan was shot and killed last November while sitting in the back seat of a friend's car listening to loud music. The man who killed him opened fire on four unarmed teenagers even as they tried to move out of harm's way. That man was empowered by the Stand Your Ground statute. I am here to tell you there was no ground to stand. There was no threat. No one was trying to invade his home, his vehicle, nor threatened him or his family. There was a vociferous argument about music, during which the accused, Michael Dunn, did not feel he was treated with respect. "You're not going to talk to me like that," he shouted as he sprayed the car that Jordan sat in with bullets, killing him instantly. When Jordan's friends tried to back the car away, Mr. Dunn aimed his handgun and fired off several more rounds; nine, total, pierced the car….

Once he had unloaded his gun at my son and his teen-aged friends, he immediately went back to his hotel, ordered a pizza and slept. He left the scene and made no attempt to call police. He retreated, but only after he killed my son. The next morning he was arrested two hours away. Those are hardly the actions and motives of someone who was quaking with fear. 

Dunn, who was charged with second-degree murder but has not been tried yet, claims he feared for his life because he heard threats and saw a shotgun. He says he did not call the cops because he did not think he had hit anyone. Police did not find any weapons at the scene, and according to McBath there were none. But if so, the shooting was clearly unjustified, with or without a duty to retreat. If in fact "there was no threat" and therefore "no ground to stand," as McBath says, the details of Florida's self-defense law would make no difference. Dunn's right to stand his ground would matter only if someone really did brandish a gun, since Dunn arguably could have escaped the danger by leaving the gas station. So if the jury buys Dunn's dubious story, the fact that he was not obligated to run away might make a difference.

McBath's argument that Florida's self-defense law "empowered" Dunn to fire on the car in which her son was riding is less plausible. Assuming Dunn was not responding to a genuine threat, the most likely explanation is that he lost his temper because Davis and his friends disrespected him, as McBath suggests. Assuming that's what happened, it's doubtful that he considered the legal implications at all, but if he did he could not possibly have believed it was all right to shoot at a bunch of teenagers because they refused to turn their music down.

It's worth keeping an eye on this case, because exhibits against the "stand your ground" principle have a way of disintegrating. Not long ago, the Tampa Bay Times was citing the 2010 shooting of 41-year-old David James by his 69-year-old neighbor Trevor Dooley following an argument at a park in Valrico as an example of the unnecessary violence supposedly condoned by Florida's statute. Then a judge rejected Dooley's self-defense claim at a pretrial hearing, and a jury convicted him of manslaughter. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

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  1. IF anything, I would think it would be the hyperbolic misrepresentations of the law by its opponents that would encourage people to aggressively shoot people and laughably level implausible claim self defense.

    Because the only way I would be encouraged to aggress and shoot someone who wasn’t a threat would be if I mistakenly believed the law would make it easy to evade sanction.

    The only people talking about the law are its opponents, and I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that if Mr Dunn thought the law would allow him to get away with gunning someone down its because he was listening to the lies of people like Sharpton.

    1. George Zimmerman was using SYG as an excuse for a year until the time of the trial in which it was not used in his defense (but was used in jury deliberations).

      Data shows that SYG is a racist law.

      But that’s kind of beside the point because what’s sick is that we should be treating the dead people as the victims and not the people who killed them, or the politicians who wrote this law.

  2. It’s amazing how transparent the opponents of SYG are. They are, first and foremost, against self defense itself (not that the specific case above, if the accounts are true, was actually self defense). They blatantly misrepresent cases where SYG doesn’t apply and pretend that somehow it did, in an effort to chip away at self defense provisions.

    I have to wonder at the mentality of people who really fundamentally hate the idea of people defending themselves. My guess is that they are abject cowards who know deep down that in a bad situation, they would piss themselves and cower in the face of an assailant, and they hate themselves for it. So, instead of not being pussies, they pathetically try to make it so that no one is allowed to defend themselves, and therefore cannot expose the cowards through comparison of action.

    There seem to be a lot of them.

    1. In my experience, primarily self-defense-haters with whom I went to high school, these guys are assholes who are terrified that one day someone will snap and hurt them.

      Every conversation I have had on the subject has started with one of them being extremely offensive, and should I rhetorically rip their heads off they rage that I am lowering the tone of the conversation with my offensive behavior.

      My sense is that the most vocal of them are full of impotent rage at the world and believe that everyone around them is secretly full of the same rage and ready to snap at a moment.

      1. In your case, it sounds like–wait for it–classic projection. What I’ve seen more of is people who have never been in a fight, are terrified of being in a fight, and have no comprehension of how chaotic and frantic and split second such situations can be. They’re the kind of dipshit who says after watching someone shoot someone on TV “couldn’t he have just shot him in the leg?” They’re really that clueless, and combined with being a coward, it causes them to think that there’s no reason you should fight back or that you should do some impossible physical feat to stave off the danger.

        And I also still think they are, deep down, envious of people who seem willing to stand up for themselves, and want to take that away from them. Because cowards are usually pretty venal too.

  3. Stand Your Ground laws are why Lou Reed is dead.

    LET’S GET SOME PERSPECTIVE ON THIS, PEOPLE.

  4. Officer Dunn, who was charged with second-degree murder but has not been tried yet is currently on paid administrative leave, claims he feared for his life because he heard threats and saw a shotgun.”

  5. Just an observation: do ANY of these kids EVER share the same last names as their moms?

  6. Sad to see mothers of murdered kids being exploited. Now if those same moms were arguing for school vouchers…

    1. Yeah, especially Trayvon Martin’s mother. She is clearly too overcome with grief and/or stupid to make any sense of the legal stuff involved, yet they keep trotting her out to speak about a law that had nothing to do with and no applicability to her son’s being killed.

      1. Speaking of which has anyone heard from Cindy Sheehan lately? I am anxious to get her opinion on SYG.

      2. Except that it very much did.

  7. Stand Your Ground laws turned me into a newt!

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