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.