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Media Matters: John Lott Continues Media Tour In Defense Of "Kill At Will"

-by Timothy Johnson

May 1, 2012- During a May 1 appearance on MSNBC's Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd, discredited gun "researcher" John Lott continued his whirlwind media tour in defense of the "Kill At Will" law (called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents) that has been linked to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. In his appearance, Lott reiterated many of the misleading claims he pushed in his April 25 op-ed for the New York Daily News defending the controversial law.

Lott began his appearance by suggesting that prior to the widespread codification of "Kill At Will," victims of serious crimes had a duty to retreat from an attacker at his or her own peril. He told Todd, "You have to understand where the laws were before. Before people had to retreat as far as possible before they could go and act in self-defense." Just because Lott repeats this falsehood over and over does not make it true. States that did require duty to retreat largely did so only under the narrow circumstance where the victim could do so safely. What Lott is attempting to do is to set his defense of "Stand Your Ground" upon the premise that these laws were enacted to fix an existing problem. His argument, however, is not credible because it seriously mischaracterizes basic legal principles of self-defense.

Even more astonishingly, Lott then claimed that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law has nothing to do with the controversy surrounding Trayvon Martin's death.

What I will say is that no matter whose story is right, the Stand Your Ground law isn't relevant to the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case. If George Zimmerman is right and the wounds on the back of his head that he was on the ground, Trayvon Martin was on top of him beating him, there was no place for him to retreat. And so the old defense, even if you had the rule that you have to retreat as far as possible, he still would have been able to act in self-defense there. And if the other side is right that somehow George Zimmerman provoked the attack, attacked Martin to begin with, then he wouldn't be able to rely on the Stand Your Ground law to protect him in that case either.

Lott is really burying his head in the sand on this one. The Sanford Police Department cited the "Stand Your Ground" law as the reason that Zimmerman was not initially arrested. Before he became George Zimmerman's lawyer, attorney Mark O'Mara appeared on a Florida local news program and suggested that Zimmerman's actions may have been legally excusable under "Stand Your Ground." Controversy surrounding the law has even led Republican governor Rick Scott to convene a taskforce to address concerns related to the 2005 legislation.

Lott is correct that Zimmerman may unsuccessfully assert "Stand Your Ground" at trial. Or it is possible that Zimmerman will not use the defense at all. Or that he will use it and prevail. Only time will tell. But to claim that "Kill At Will" has not been "relevant" to the Trayvon Martin controversy is an act of willful blindness that serves to draw attention away from the legitimate debate surrounding the self-defense law.



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