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Stand Your Ground Laws or License to Kill Without a Cause?

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The Trayvon Martin case has shed light not only on the effects of a misguided and inherently dangerous law, but also on the psychological effects of carrying a gun and the paranoia and/or bravado that may result.

First, let's make no mistake. The verdict in the George Zimmerman case had everything to do with the effects of the Stand Your Ground legislation passed in Florida and 30 U.S. states. When Circuit Judge Debra Nelson's instructions to the jury included the statement that Zimmerman had no duty to retreat, as would have been required prior to the passage of such a law, the dangerous "shoot first" law became the basis for the verdict.

The fact that this crime ever happened is a travesty in and of itself. Research has found that wielding a gun increases a person's bias to see a gun in the hands of others. The very fact that George Zimmerman was armed increased the chance that the encounter would escalate and potentially become lethal. Had Zimmerman remained in the car as police ordered him to do (retreat) and had he not believed that Florida law would support a claim of self-defense if he "felt threatened" vs. was actually threatened, Trayvon Martin would be alive today.

To add insult to serious injury, not only has the gun industry not shown remorse for an innocent life ending far too early and a family enduring untold heartache, the Buckeye Firearms Foundation started a fundraiser encouraging visitors to donate to the cause of re-arming Zimmerman. His gun is currently being held by the Justice Department as evidence in a federal investigation into the Martin shooting (along with the painfully innocent effects found on Trayvon Martin: clothes, cell phone, the bag of Skittles and beverage found in his pocket).

When the first priority of the uniquely unregulated gun industry is to re-arm a vigilante who has taken a life needlessly, we truly need to re-evaluate our humanity. Have second amendment rights and Stand Your Ground laws become more important than human life and common decency? Has the gun industry, which enjoys absolute immunity from lawsuits thanks to Congress, lost all sense of integrity? And, finally, has Congress been so corrupted and lost its backbone that they are willing to sacrifice the lives of their constituents to collect ever more campaign contributions and appease an ever more radical gun lobby? It's no wonder that a recent NBC/WSJ poll finds that only 12 percent of respondents approve of Congress' job, which is tied for its lowest standing in the history of the poll. And 83 percent disapprove, which is the highest-ever rating for the legislative branch. In addition, nearly six-in-10 voters say they would vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress if they had such an option on their ballot, another all-time high.

Heidi Yewman is a mom who decided to be a "good guy" by carrying a gun everywhere she went for a month, doing the absolute minimum that's legally required to carry or own that gun. Instead of feeling empowered and less fearful, she found the opposite. Having a gun in the house led to an anxiety level that she called "draining". And, as she stated, "physically taking the gun out of the safe and putting it in a holster on my hip literally reminded me that I was going out into a big bad scary unsafe world."

I too am a gun owner and there is no question in my mind that gun ownership is a right in the U.S. But with that right come responsibilities and psychological consequences that are different for everyone. In order to balance those consequences, human life and dignity have to be placed first. Instead of enacting Stand Your Ground-license to kill without a cause laws, or as it is referred to in Arizona, "Make My Day" legislation, we need Congress to stand up and pass uniform national laws, beginning with criminal background checks for all gun sales and higher standards for carrying deadly firearms, that put gun ownership in perspective and honor human life. A requirement to retreat if possible may not seem brave, but had George Zimmerman honored the life of Trayvon Martin, another senseless death with a firearm would have been averted and Zimmerman could have lived without knowing he killed an unarmed teenager.