Stand Your Ground

Hung Up on 'Stand Your Ground'

The absence of a duty to retreat does not explain the outcome of Michael Dunn's murder trial.


At the center of the case against Michael Dunn is a disappearing shotgun. The middle-aged software developer claims 17-year-old Jordan Davis threatened to kill him with it during an argument over loud music at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station in November 2012. But police never found a gun, and no witness reported seeing one.

Three jurors nevertheless found Dunn's story plausible, which is why his trial ended in February without a verdict on the murder charge related to his shooting of Davis. But it is hard to see how that outcome can be attributed to Florida's "stand your ground" self-defense law, which was widely blamed for hanging the jury.

The jurors did agree that Dunn was guilty of attempted second-degree murder when he fired at the Dodge Durango in which Davis was riding with three other teenagers. Under Florida's mandatory minimum sentencing rules for crimes involving a firearm, Dunn faces at least 20 years in prison for the attempted murder counts and a related charge, and his prison term could be as long as 75 years if he is required to serve the sentences consecutively.

Prosecutors plan to try Dunn again on the murder charge connected to his shooting of Davis. But there is no evidence that their failure to win a conviction the first time around had anything to do with the fact that Florida does not impose a duty to retreat on people who are attacked in public places, which is the essence of "stand your ground."

Dunn's lawyer did mention that aspect of the law during his closing argument, and it was mentioned again to the jury as part of the standard instruction for a homicide case in which the defendant claims he acted in self-defense. But it did not come up during any other part of the trial, and its relevance is not at all obvious.

Confronted by an angry, shotgun-wielding teenager who had just threatened to kill him, could Dunn simply have gotten into his car and driven away? Maybe. Could he have done so safely, which is a standard condition for the duty to retreat? Probably not.

Given the fishy elements of Dunn's story-the unseen shotgun he never mentioned to his girlfriend, the fact that the teenagers did not shoot back, his failure to call the police-it is surprising that the jurors hung on the murder charge, especially since they could have convicted him of second-degree murder or manslaughter instead of first-degree murder, which requires premeditation. But critics of what The New York Times called "Florida's expansive self-defense statutes" did not cite any special feature of state law that explained the jurors' disagreement.

Instead the critics focused, as the Times did, on the challenge of deciding whether Dunn reasonably believed he faced a deadly threat that could be neutralized only by shooting Davis. That sort of challenge is not unique to Florida or limited to "stand your ground" states.

The reasonable-belief standard was part of Florida's law before the state legislature eliminated the duty to retreat in 2005, and it is part of self-defense laws in states that New York Times editors no doubt consider more enlightened, such as New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. This standard is not some crazy idea invented by Florida gun nuts; it is the conventional approach in the United States.

As with the George Zimmerman trial, which ended in an acquittal last summer and had even less to do with "stand your ground," the Times insisted from the beginning that the Dunn case was "another test of Florida's broad self-defense law." Having said that over and over again, the Times ran a post-verdict "news analysis" under the headline "Self-Defense Law Hung Over Florida Jury."

How much evidence did the Times offer to back up that assertion? As much as Michael Dunn offered to back up his claim that Jordan Davis had a shotgun.

NEXT: Brickbat: Out of Season

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  1. Dude that looks like its gonna be good.

  2. How much evidence did the Times offer to back up that assertion?

    It’s not about reality, it’s about the narrative.
    Armed citizens – bad!
    Armed citizen self-defense – bad!

    1. Bingo.

  3. Maybe Davis was reaching for a cane.

  4. But it is hard to see how that outcome can be attributed to Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, which was widely blamed for hanging the jury.

    I’m not sure if the proper response is “Check your privilege!”, “Wild West!”, or “RACIST!”, so I won’t say anything.

    1. The state is 0-1-1. Think they’ll try again?

  5. Is there anything proggys do that isn’t disingenuous? Is there a single case from Florida that actually does have to do with the stand your ground law? I wonder if there are any cases of blacks justifiably using the law to defend themselves?

    I just noticed the Newsmax headline Lois Lerner: Holding me in Contempt is ‘Un-American’. Laughable. Using the IRS to harass your political and ideological opponents isn’t, huh Lois? More mendacity from the left.

    1. Truth be told, anything that violates the sovereignty of the individual and indentures citizens to the service of the state is “un-American”. The IRS is just a tool in the service of the government… the INCOME TAX itself is what’s “un-American”.

      1. Reality has a well know liberal bias. Hurr durr.

        1. As classical liberals, most posters here at Reason understand that.

    2. Is there anything proggys do that isn’t disingenuous?

      No, because it’s faith-based. Reality is negotiable; dogma isn’t.

      1. and there is it. Interesting how it is the Repubs who are willing to question their dogma, how it is their side that includes the likes of Paul, Amash, Cruz, and some others. I see no equivalent quasi-heretics on the left, just one big blog of groupthink.

        1. You can cast the neocons in with them. Neocons are really just Republican progressives who accept the fallacious premises of their progtard cousins.

    3. The end justifies the means.

  6. We are all Trayvon.

    /no, no we’re not

    1. Skittles and iceT fo life!

      1. and purple drank

  7. Legal debates not withstanding, Being from Philly, I believe in street smarts and common sense. Mr. Dunn showed neither by confronting a car full of young black men over loud music. He claims he politely asked them to turn the music down. Yea right. Would he have done that if he wasn’t armed? The man is a liar and a coward.

    My friends dad (Archie Bunker type) used to say that when stopped at a light next to a car thumping loud music, he wanted to take his gun and shoot the radio, not the occupants. Now if Mr. Dunn had done that it would have been wrong but also funny

    1. Judging from the outcome, he would have been pretty stupid to confront those young men over their loud music. He had every right to do so. Even if he was a dick about it. If his story is correct, he was in the right. If he was just shooting at these kids for playing loud music, he’s obviously a psychopathic murderer.

  8. If you’re a policeman, it’s ok to shoot someone you thought might be reaching for a gun because you are an invaluable asset to society. If you’re the average Joe, you had better make darn sure you know for certain that the other guy has a gun and is directly threatening you or you’ll be strung up by the liberal mob.

    1. Because cops get shot all the time. No one ever shoots a “civilian.”

  9. ‘The cellphone looked like a gun.’ Cops use it all the time. Why wouldn’t that work for everyone else?

  10. I think it’s odd that having concluded he was sufficiently reckless as to shoot at a fleeing van, they found any of his testimony plausible.

  11. This was a bad shoot and proof that some people have neither the intellectual capacity nor judgment to safely carry and use firearms.

    That said, I don’t give a toss if every other gun owner in America went out and shot up a van full of youts last night. I didn’t so the gun grabbers can fuck right off.

  12. Dunn again on the murder charge connected to his shooting of Davis.

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