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Zimmerman acquittal spurs debate over 'Stand Your Ground' laws

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(KYTX) - The acquittal of George Zimmerman has ignited new debate about nationwide Castle Doctrines, also called "Stand Your Ground" laws. They allow people to defend themselves with deadly force if they feel threatened.

Texas is one of 21 states that have adopted this law.  It was passed in Texas in 2007, and says that people can defend themselves with deadly force if they feel threatened in their home, business, car, or any place they have a legal right to be.

Critics say the law gives Americans a way to commit murder without consequence. Supporters say it's the only way for someone to fully defend them self.

The looming question: are stand your ground laws too vague?

Houston area State Representative Garnet Coleman thinks so. He's trying to repeal the Stand Your Ground law in Texas. He says it does not clearly define what a threat is, and therefore allows personal judgments, like racial stereotyping, to spur violence.

"The issue is that society has decided if you're black and under 19, you're dangerous," Coleman says. "It's only a racial issue because the perception of a certain group of people."

Coleman worries that Zimmerman's acquittal will increase violence, he believes is unnecessary.

"If somebody's pointing a gun at your head, you can kill them because you know that person is trying to take your life," he says. "But if somebody is 20 feet away with nothing, it's not self defense to shoot them."

State Representative for District 6, Matt Schaefer agrees that deadly force should only be used when there is an eminent threat,  but says that decision lies with each individual.

"We are allowing that person to make a decision. In Texas, and I think rightfully so, we say we're going to air on the side of the person who's feeling threatened," Schaefer says.

He acknowledges the possibilities of bias and prejudice.

"Because the law focuses on the belief of the individual person involved, then naturally, the beliefs, the prejudices, the biases of that individual person are going to be considered and you can't get around that," Schaefer says.

He says that's not reason enough to do away with the law, and diminish people's right to defend themselves.

Coleman's bill never left committee, but he says he won't give up. He plans to file the same repeal until he sees change.

Schaefer says he does not think the bill will get the support it needs to change the current law.

There have been studies on how these castle doctrine laws affect violence, but the results show no single consensus. 

Both the National Bureau of Economic Research and Texas A&M have published studies showing a rise in murders since the laws were enacted.

A "More Guns, Less Crime" study published through the University of Chicago shows that castle doctrines have *educed murder rates.

 

 

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