THE BLOG

Florida's Stand Your Ground Was Written for the Exception

02/21/2014 11:53 am ET | Updated Apr 23, 2014

Haven't we've been down this road before? A seemingly clear-cut case, at least in the court of public opinion, only to witness that 12 jurors charged with reaching a verdict did not unanimously see it that way.

In the macro context, the case against Michael Dunn bore an eerie resemblance to that of George Zimmerman. Both men shot an unarmed black male teenager, and it occurred in Florida.

But there were also stark differences. Zimmerman, who was acquitted last year of killing Trayvon Martin, did not leave the scene, go back to his hotel room and order a pizza, as did Dunn. Unlike Zimmerman, Dunn may very well spend the rest of his life in jail for some of his actions.

There is a piece that remains unsettling: How was Dunn not convicted of murdering Jordan Davis? Maybe the crime did not reach the level of first-degree, as the prosecution sought, but the fact remains that somehow enough of Dunn's peers saw his actions on that count as justified. On that charge after 30 hours of deliberation and a final 9-3 vote among the jurors, the judge ruled a mistrial.

How is it that one's fear, however irrational, can trump someone's humanity and have it justified by the law?

Law Professor Robert George offers, "That the obligations and purposes of law and government are to protect public health, safety, and morals, and to advance the general welfare, including, preeminently, protecting people's fundamental rights and basic liberties."

Florida's stand-your-ground law failed on every count to protect Jordan Davis. That supposes, of course, the intent was to protect Davis.

Assuming there is universal acceptance of the obligations and purposes of law and government, does it not call into question the barbarity of stand-your-ground laws? The Florida law says the use of deadly force is justifiable if someone reasonably believes that force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.

That's a low threshold to act irresponsibly and a higher one to overturn. The law in its present form requires getting inside someone's head to prove he or she didn't feel in the manner they claim.

In two high-profile instances the justice system in Florida is culpable in aiding and abetting armed men killing unarmed teenagers, using an alibi that depends on the inverted order of the victimizer being transformed into the victim.

How does unarmed teenagers playing loud music at a convenience store translate to killing?

We can bemoan the likes of Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman or the jurors who somehow identified with the irrational fears to justify what reasonable people would otherwise define as murder, but the real culprit is the law itself.

While no law can account for the exception to the rule or the unintended consequences, stand-your-ground laws are different. The unintended consequence of this law is that it was written for the exception. And it is the exception that serves as the entrance to barbarism.

The majority of gun owners do not fit the profile of Dunn; they are not emboldened by irrational fears.

As the exception, Dunn did not roll the window up, ignore the taunting, or move his car as juror number 4 suggested as possible options in an ABC Nightline interview. Instead he fired repeatedly, still firing as the unarmed vehicle fled the scene. Because the exception did not seek the obvious alternatives, a teenager in the spring of life is needlessly dead.

The exception brings to fruition H.G. Wells' scientific novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. The difference being when Dr. Moreau asks: What is the law? The Florida response, based on the behavior of the exception, is not to eschew walking on all fours, but to do the opposite, retreating to a pre-Neanderthal status.

We are a nation of laws, but the purpose of those laws should never be to bolster irrational feelings.

Dunn was convicted on three counts of attempted murder; each carries a minimum sentence of 20 years. It is unlikely he will taste the nectar of freedom anytime soon.

But I suspect his conviction will not serve as a deterrent. The haunting question that remains from this verdict: If Dunn had killed all four unarmed teenagers, would he be a free man today? That's all the "exception" needs to glean from this tragic chapter.