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Late Night: Nothing Says Self-Defense Like Letting The Justice System Work

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I know, it’s the Cornhole, but it’s actually trying to make an argument this time instead of just slavering over Mitt Romney’s jock:

Of course, any self-defense rule bears the potential for injustice. For example, in a two-person altercation, one may be dead and the other dubiously claims self-defense.

But these cases, like Trayvon Martin’s, implicate the self-defense justification generally. If George Zimmerman was the aggressor, he has no self-defense rights at all, whether the incident took place in a SYG jurisdiction or not. If Trayvon attacked Zimmerman, the only question is whether Zimmerman reasonably believed he was in danger, not whether he could’ve retreated. If Zimmerman provoked the confrontation, he lost the protections of SYG law.

Which is the exact two-person scenario you depicted in the previous paragraph. That’s the POINT. SYG laws are designed to give you the incentive to kill your attacker because hey, if nobody else is around to contradict you, you can claim whatever you like about what you thought was going to happen.

And the problem I have with the “perception of danger” idea is that stupid-ass racist people perceive danger at the shopping mall when they see two young black men walking out of a Gamestop, or they drive through a neighborhood that has a sign in Spanish. I can really, truly, deeply in my heart of hearts believe the kids walking home from Little League are about to murder me, because they’re carrying baseball bats. Does the law grant me the right to gun them down? If a jury of my middle-class white peers says yes, then it does.


In short, hard cases make for skewed policy debates — a demagogic dynamic with which Congress is well familiar after Sandy Hook. While anti-gun lobbyists have used both that tragedy and Trayvon Martin to pitch all sorts of legislation, what they really target is the right to self-defense. With SYG laws, yes, prosecutors need to show evidence to counter claims of self-defense, not simply argue that the shooter could’ve retreated. But for those who value due process — which should include historically mistreated minorities — that’s a feature, not a bug.

Yeah, I can see how people who are disproportionately victimized by what the powerful call “due process” should be grateful for that, given how wonderfully the justice system has always worked in their favor. Jesus H. Cirque du Soleil.


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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.