Austin Center for Inquiry Debates “Stand Your Ground” Laws

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By Alan Brooks

Last night I attended a meeting of the Austin, Texas chapter of the Center For Inquiry, a secular humanist social organization whose mission is “to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.” The topic of the evening was “Stand your ground, castle doctrine and the gun-shine state” (read, George Zimmerman trial) and I thought it would be interesting to find out how a group that tends to be fairly liberal in the bluest city in one of the redder states in the country felt about that . . .

Eighteen people (including myself and my SO) attended the round-table discussion. The majority of the group were older white males but there were five women and one Hispanic former defense attorney there as well. The law enforcement and military community were represented by an Army Vietnam vet/former Texas LEO and me, a Marine Corps Iraq vet/ former Florida LEO. All in all a decent mixture considering that we’re in central Texas.

The debate started off well with one of the regular members passing out a sheet with definitions of terms and quotes from Florida statutes to make sure that we were all on the same page and a brief synopsis of the Zimmerman case. Then the floor was opened for discussion. The first commenter was a woman who pointed out that the Zimmerman case was not typical of either firearm-related homicides, or self-defense cases and should not be construed to have any relevance in the larger discussions of Second Amendment rights or self-defense laws.

The Army vet spoke next and said that he felt it would be inappropriate for anyone to argue that George Zimmerman “got away with murder” because the legal costs, the emotional and mental distress, and the fact that he will go through the rest of his life with this hanging over his head means that he will never really be free. He said that he spoke from personal experience, having been involved in a DGU himself, and that while he fully supported peoples’ right to keep and bear arms, he personally no longer owned or carried guns.

There was a brief discussion about PTSD and Dave Grossman’s book “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” and then the group moved back to the Zimmerman case itself. The general consensus seemed to be that Zimmerman probably shouldn’t have taken it upon himself to get out of the car and follow Martin that night, but that it certainly wasn’t illegal and if, as Zimmerman claimed, Martin violently attacked him then Zimmerman had every right to defend himself.

The consensus was similar for a discussion of the castle doctrine with everyone agreeing that people should be neither required nor prohibited from retreating in the event of a home invasion and that deadly force would be permissible in such a case. Then we looked at some statistics regarding firearms and crime and the group concluded that more guns  more crime and that taking away guns (Australia’s crime statistics since the restrictions in 1996 and the nearly outright ban in 2002) might result in fewer guncrimes, but not necessarily less crime overall and, in fact, might result in an increase in particular crimes (burglaries in the case of Australia).

In an attempt to spawn some real debate, the topic was shifted from self-defense in particular to gun control in general and one eloquent non-gun owner (who had mentioned earlier in the evening that his plan for home defense was to jump out the window and run for help, leaving his wife and child behind with the home invader(s)) said that new gun laws weren’t the answer. What we need, he said, is a better public education system and a change in the gun culture of America. He said that he feels we need to get rid of the ideas that having a gun makes you a man and makes you strong or that guns are a good way to solve problems. Personally, I don’t think owning or carrying a gun makes you any more of a man (or a woman) or makes you stronger or better able to solve problems than anything else, but I also care about my girlfriend and I would rather use a gun to defend her (and face an investigation and potential prosecution) than leave her at the mercy of of a home invader while I ran for help, but that’s just me.

Overall, I was really pleasantly surprised to see what is probably otherwise a pretty liberal group discuss guns in a rational manner and draw conclusions based on facts and evidence and not resort to anecdotal emotional appeals or straw-man arguments. Of course, it might have been a little different if the topic had been on “assault weapons” or magazine capacity, but at least the discussion would still (hopefully) be fact-based.

comments

  1. avatar William Burke says:

    I suppose he believes having a gun makes a woman a man also.

    1. avatar Shwiggie says:

      Well, since guns are supposedly an extension of one’s penis, it certainly would stand to reason.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        *Sigh* my favorite gun is a J frame snubby.

        1. avatar Bill says:

          It’s a grower, not a shower

      2. avatar Jason says:

        So you could say she’s strapped…on?

  2. avatar Russ Bixby says:

    “Overall, I was really pleasantly surprised to see what is probably otherwise a pretty liberal group discuss guns in a rational manner and draw conclusions based on facts and evidence and not resort to anecdotal emotional appeals or straw-man arguments”

    Interesting bias, there. Perhaps actual liberals — as differentiated from Statists who are neither liberal nor any friends to Democracy — are not the bogeymen y’all like to think they are.

    Perhaps in Texas — unlike New York City — they do liberalism right, just like barbecue.

    Just a thought here; try using both eyes, just as an experiment.

    1. avatar JeffR says:

      It goes both ways, and we’d all be wise to learn that lesson.

      1. avatar Russ Bixby says:

        Agreed.

    2. avatar ThomasR says:

      Maybe not in in Texas RussB; But Progressive/liberalism/ new age new wave/ statism is the norm on the west coast in the Bay Area. They are the bogey men/women of which you speak.

      It has been a journey to heal my self of the particular brand of brain washing/ conditioning/ denial/ delusion and outright insanity these people are prone to.

      This is also the level of mental dis-function that is the norm in many if not most of our colleges and universities.

      Liberal/progressivism is truly a mental disorder.

      1. avatar Russ Bixby says:

        Well, I’ll still proudly call myself a Liberal — knowing that I mean it in the Jeffersonian sense.

        In certain parts of the world, Jew is used as an insult. Not using that word might save them some trouble, but it’s wrong to hide from ones name.

        That a bunch of Statist, dictatorial bastards have co-opted it doesn’t mean that I’ll let ’em have it without a fight.

        I’m certain there are those on the far right whom the majority wish wouldn’t call themselves Rebublican.

        Harrumph!

        1. avatar ThomasR says:

          They’re called RINO’s; Jeffersonian Liberal, two thumbs up!

          Most Liberal/progressives of today in power are statists/ elitists that believe that the ends justify the means; lying is the least they are willing to do; mass murder is embraced by these depraved and psychotic individuals as the price they are willing to pay for their version of “Utopia”, i.e. police state tyranny and dictatorship.

          History will look back on these last hundred years of mass murder in the hundreds of millions by these statist elitists and will judge them as the human monsters they have proven themselves to be.

        2. avatar Derek says:

          Russ, a “Jeffersonian Liberal” may be more correctly a Libertarian (as in Liberty) today, of which I proudly call myself one. Too bad the Libertarian parties in the US have never been able to mount an effective campaign against the current two party trap.

      2. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Totally agree here. Portland is so off the charts weird I truly have a hard time understanding. City hall is just now trying to deal with the “homeless” that are literally camped out on the sidewalks in front of their building.
        I try to understand the liberal/progressive mind, but I can’t see myself doing what they do or feeling how they feel.

    3. avatar int19h says:

      >> Interesting bias, there. Perhaps actual liberals — as differentiated from Statists who are neither liberal nor any friends to Democracy — are not the bogeymen y’all like to think they are.

      It’s not about “actual liberals” vs “statists” or anything like that. It’s just that this kind of discussion group inherently attracts people that are above average in intelligence and the desire and ability to apply rational thinking to problems that they face. Hence, you can have a meaningful discussion based on logic and reason.

      It does not change the fact that most voters, on both left and right, blindly vote for “their” party regardless of any actual merits or lack thereof of the points their candidates espouse. They don’t support the points because they make sense; they support them because “their” party does.

  3. avatar Chris75 says:

    Maybe he’s going to jump out the window and run for help because his wife is a better fighter!

  4. avatar tdiinva says:

    I don’t think the gentleman whose plan is to “run for help” has a good understanding of time and distance calculations. If that were my plan my wife would shoot me before she shot the intruder.

    1. avatar Bob says:

      And you would deserve it! LOL

    2. avatar Russ Bixby says:

      As would mine. Fortunately, she’d not have to.

      Ewww.

    3. avatar Liberty2Alpha says:

      He was probably very bad at Math word problems in school.

      1. avatar sagebrushracer says:

        Oh don’t even get me started. I really detest those things, its is a reading comprehension test wrapped around a math problem. To this very day, I have never, ever had to decipher a number value from a bunch of words in the 12 years since I left high school. And I was always told that my reading skill was usually a few grade levels above what it needed to be, I was a avid reader, go figure.

        1. avatar Marcus Aurelius says:

          What I got from word problems was the ability to discard non-relevant information and focus on only what’s important. It’s harder to develop this skill from well written prose as well written prose only includes the relevant stuff to begin with, although it’s certainly feasible.

          I constantly have to decipher technical details from rambling, barely coherent instructions as I frequently work with leads/foremen who hoard the paperwork for my jobs and try to rule their fiefdom as an arbiter of information.

          But then, I always liked word problems.

    4. avatar traye says:

      Maybe he doesn’t really like his wife or children and is looking for a way out.

  5. avatar neiowa says:

    Without a saw I’m not capable of being a carpenter. Can not even ATTEMPT to solve carpentry problem. Am “unconfident” of capability of solving the carpentry problem. With the saw (correct tool) am confident that I can try to solve the problem. Might fail but likely will succeed. Does that make me more of a Man? Yes.

    Man – See Problem, Solve Problem

    (Woman – See Problem, discuss Promblem one phone for 3hrs while sending 35 text msg, consider how feel about the problem, go shopping, tell man about the Problem and her feelings toward it, get all pissed off when man suggests solution to problem).

    1. avatar Russ Bixby says:

      Hmmm.

      I see women differently. Or maybe the women with whom I choose to associate are different.

      Ewww.

    2. avatar Joe S. says:

      What “Problem” are you referring to?

    3. avatar Ropingdown says:

      With a saw I can achieve a result: I cut and I cut and it’s still too short.

    4. avatar Ben in UT says:

      And… misogynistic generalizations. Classy.

      Thanks for doing your part to counteract the ignorant, sexist, gun-owner stereotype. /s

  6. avatar dwb says:

    keep in mind, a “liberal” in Texas is a rabid right winger in CA or NY. Maryland, NJ, NY are so blue that the republicans here are leftist compared to red state democrats. Can you imagine a R gov other than Christie signing gun control legislation? Michael Steele, former RNC Chair and MD lieutenant gov, said no one needs an assault rifle.

    1. avatar Russ Bixby says:

      The Governator.

    2. avatar bontai Joe says:

      I was born and raised in NJ before I escaped to PA and I can’t help wondering how very different this discussion would have been had it occurred in NJ, or even worse, NY

    3. avatar PavePusher says:

      “Can you imagine a R gov other than Christie signing gun control legislation?”

      Ummm, Ronald Regan, Mitt Romney, Arnold Schwarzenegger…..?

    4. avatar S_J says:

      “NY are so blue that the republicans here are leftist compared to red state democrats.”

      Unless you’re north of Westchester County/outside Albany. There’s still a pretty hardcore strain of rural Republicans and libertarians up here that are as right leaning as any you’ll find in NH or ME (maybe not TX Republican but close). It’s just that the NY Republican Party is loaded with RINOs because most of them have to pander to the NYC idiots who keep moving north to escape the urban sh!tpile they created.

  7. avatar Ralph says:

    “Austin Center for Inquiry Debates ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws”

    In Massachusetts, it would have been a circle jerk of epic proportions.

    1. avatar Ropingdown says:

      I once thought Springfield and South Boston were the problem with MA. Then I had a conversation with a few people in Amherst, and realized the true problem..

  8. avatar Larry says:

    I was born in Conn. 65 years ago… I got my first Pistol permit there at 18 my Dad Was Concealed carry man his whole life after he was mugged as a freshman at Yale in 1934
    My family would be broadly described as secular humanists though we would go as far as the Unitarian church for things like weddings and funerals.

    When I went to collage in Boston in the 60s I got a Mass Pistol permit and the process was more involved than it was in Conn but it was possible. Many of my professors and fellow students went and used the ROTC range just for fun.
    I do admit that I do now live in a far more friendly place towards firearm use than either of those 2 states, When I picked my retirement town I went to a state where the state constitution has as an clause (not an amendment ) “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” thats it no mention of a militia to fog the issue anywhere in that,

    As a life member of the NRA since age 18 i have been dismayed by the way the 2ed amendment fight for our firearms rights has been cast as anti anyone whose general politics are even centrist let alone left of center.
    I am an active shooter in SASS and burn about 2000 to 3000 rounds of ,45 Colt (hand load 35 gr ff blackpowder and 250 gr rn slug) and 16g a shot shells a year in that sport , Many of the cars inthe range parkilg lots at CAS events I attend have stickers for democratic candidates in election years.
    Now CAS folks are 3 gun competitors even if our guns do mot have black plastic stocks and I accept that it may be very different in the other 3 gun disciplines, ( While I have owned a folding stock black gun since about 1970, an Armilite AR 180) I have not been involved in that end of the sport but my surmise would be that it would not be quite as welcoming to someone who was a secular humanist but I would be happy to be shown to be wrong,
    While I am careful to vote for supporters of our cause sometimes there is no viable candidate that I can get behind. and I have to vote for no one for a given office as the person who is pro 2ed is also spouting off on various social and community issues in a way that I can not support.

    I think the cause of firearms friendly laws could do a lot better if we could be more open to folks that were centrist voters. and quite frankly they are being forced away by the sometimes less than inclusive campaigns that the shooting world runs.

    1. avatar Russ Bixby says:

      Thank the Gods! Welcome, sir.

  9. avatar Bob7 says:

    So, the guy plans to jump out the window leaving his wife and kid to fend for themselves. Does his wife know that is his plan?

    1. avatar bontai Joe says:

      That would be his soon to be ex-wife if she has a brain.

  10. avatar B says:

    My Dad always said a democrat in Texas is more conservative than a republican in New York.

    1. avatar Rev. Maurice Pompitous says:

      Your Dad never met Sheila Jackson Lee.

      1. avatar Russ Bixby says:

        Well y’ see matey, t’ every rule thar has t’ be the occasional exception, else it ain’t a rule, now is it?

        Anyone what likes t’ disagree can jus’ kiss the daughter ‘r kiss the keel.

        Aarrggghhh!

        1. Russ, Talk Like a Pirate Day is next month. You gotta hold it in, man!

        2. avatar Just some random guy says:

          Actually, he’s providing a direct, relevant counter example to a common false assumption. It *used* to be true that a Democrat in Texas was likely a conservative Democrat. That was in the 1960s — and “conservative” and “liberal” meant something different then too. Now, almost none are. (I say “almost” because there probably are some, although I can’t think of any.) They are out-and-out progressives, as is the Texas Democratic party writ large. Likewise, you should stop thinking that Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are conservative. They are not. (I did not mention Austin, which I think is commonly acknowledged to be liberal/leftist.)

  11. avatar Anonymous says:

    “He said that he feels we need to get rid of the ideas that having a gun makes you a man and makes you strong or that guns are a good way to solve problems.”

    ??? Ridiculous idea and a ridiculous blanket statement on gun owners. This statement single handedly tells me this guy knows nothing about guns and nothing about gun culture and gun owners.

    I don’t know a single gunowning acquaintance of mine that owns a gun for those reasons. Guns don’t solve problems – people do. Guns don’t make a boy a man or anyone strong. A gun is simply a machine comprising of various alloys, polymers, wood, springs, etc. They don’t have personalities. When inserted into the hands of gun owners they don’t magically contort and twist the bearer into characters like those from the “lord of the rings.”

    1. avatar B says:

      Lord of the Rings with guns sounds like an awesome premise for a story. Closest thing to it I can think of is the Dark Tower.

    2. avatar Ropingdown says:

      I doubt having a gun is essential in order to be a man, but I am sure that having a gun at the right time helps a man continue to be.

  12. avatar Gw says:

    Many years ago, I recall laughing aloud when I first heard the phrase ‘duty to retreat’. Upon being informed it actually was part of written law, my first comment was that such an idea was so convoluted and antithetical to everything American, it could only have been conjured up by lawyers or communists.
    While the idea of avoiding unnecessary confrontation is most certainly at the very least prudent, the unintended consequences of this skewed clause resulted in persons who were rightfully and righteously defending themselves being unjustly convicted and incarcerated under strict interpretation of this idea as ’law’ on charges such as manslaughter.
    Upon being made aware of this fact, the laws were re-written to provide legal protection for persons having acted in righteous defense of themselves and their property — from both criminal prosecution and after-the-fact civil suits.
    Admittedly unknowledgeable about legal matters, for those having rightfully assumed their Moral Obligation and Duty as Citizens to provide themselves with and to Keep and Bear Arms, had revisions not been made to these laws, ( and presuming this has not already occurred ) — no quantum leap in understanding is necessary to recognize it would have only been a matter of time before a person who otherwise clearly acted in rightful defense was unjustly convicted of manslaughter based on the idea that having previously armed oneself, the act was therefore premeditated.
    ( editor needed, inquire within )

    For the Record:
    “As a Morally-conscious, ‘Rights’-respecting, Peaceable and Law-Abiding American Citizen, it is my most earnest and sincere of all desires to never again be forced into a circumstance necessitating the actual use of any weapon against any other person.”
    Gw

  13. avatar Gs650g says:

    Try having the same discussions in the liberal northeast.

  14. avatar CAM says:

    Interesting group. Would like to know if the round table had any African-Americans, as virtually all have apparently drank the Kool Aide that Martin was profiled and murdered, totally ignoring the facts of the case. I have seen interviews with otherwise intelligent, well educated community leaders that simply defy belief…even several well respected African-American lawyers and law professors.
    Exactly reminds me of the reaction to the OJ not guilty verdict years ago.

  15. avatar Layne says:

    I think someone has confused “gun culture of america” with gang culture. Like many of us, I grew up in America’s gun culture. Everyone from 11 years old and up had learned to shoot and learned to respect the danger of firearms. No one I have ever known was more confrontational when they had a gun handy, or believed it related to their manhood in any way. Gang culture has zero interaction or overlap with this world. They are physically located great distances apart, and to date I’ve never heard of a single person that was involved in both cultures. 11 year olds might also learn to shoot, but not from their father they’ve never met, from their peers. Respect of peers is greatly valued and respect of elders is not (opposite of what makes a good community). Maintaining your manliness, respect, or credibility requires flashing a gun or maybe using it. This culture accounts for the lion’s share of gun violence and murders in the US. So I absolutely agree that a change is needed, although it would take generations to implement and I don’t know how to start. “Public education” that guns don’t make you a man would be about as effective as asking young boys to start wearing dresses. You can’t instantly unlearn everything you’ve ever learned. Reversal of this culture needs to start before they are born. It starts with the parents. But don’t go blaming me. I’m probably a 20th generation American gun owner and none of us have ever murdered anyone to assert our manliness.

  16. avatar AJ says:

    “Overall, I was really pleasantly surprised to see what is probably otherwise a pretty liberal group discuss guns in a rational manner and draw conclusions based on facts and evidence and not resort to anecdotal emotional appeals or straw-man arguments. ”

    It is never possible to have an actual discussion on an issue, especially the “gun issue” when the other side’s idea of “discussion” is “Just accept that we, the antigun, are right, and you are wrong.” Glad to see those folks were not in attendance.

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