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Floridians Standing Their Ground

person with a ponytail, viewed from behind, firing a Glock 23 at a gun range
photo courtesy Ratha Grimes

Uber driver Namique Anderson is probably a hero. Whether he’ll be able to remain an Uber driver has recently been in some doubt.

Anderson was driving a passenger in Aventura, Florida, to the Fort Lauderdale airport when a minivan cut off his car on a causeway access road. A man emerged from the van with a pair of handguns drawn, evidently planning to rob Anderson, his passenger or both. Anderson drew his own licensed weapon and shot the man, killing him. Another man, who remained in the van, fled the scene. He was later taken into custody by the police.

Anderson had a permit for his weapon, and the Aventura police confirmed his actions were a matter of self-defense. Uber, however, has a policy against its drivers carrying weapons, which means Anderson could potentially lose his access to the service. The company has said it is looking in to the incident.

Florida, famously, has a “stand your ground” statute. It immunizes individuals from prosecution if they shoot an assailant in self-defense, while eliminating a prior common-law “duty to retreat” that still exists in many other states. When Kevin Johnson waved two guns at Anderson, Anderson was under no obligation to consider whether he might be able to evade the impromptu roadblock and outrun his assailants. Under Florida law, he was well within his rights to shoot – and kill – Johnson.

We can only speculate what might have happened if Anderson had been unarmed, or if he tried to run. But I’d be willing to bet Anderson’s passenger was grateful that he handled the situation the way he did.

In Florida, nobody is under a duty to comply with an armed robber in the hopes this will avert violence. Sometimes robbers shoot anyway.

Anderson’s self-defense was just one of a series of recent incidents in South Florida. In November, two unrelated incidents resulted in a home intruder being shot. Warren Cespedes, of North Miami-Dade, badly wounded a man who was trying to break into the home Cespedes shares with his wife and two young sons. Warren Darlow, of Sunrise, shot and killed one of three men who broke into his home; the other two were arrested and charged with burglary and murder. A few weeks later, another attempted home break-in in Miami ended in a shooting.

While Charles Rabin, writing for the Miami Herald, described this as a “wave” of shootings, attorney Michael Grieco pointed out that “We need more of a sample size than just a few weeks” before drawing any broad conclusions.

Another aspect of Florida’s law is that it establishes a presumption that if an intruder is shot inside a home or its immediate premises, the occupant is justified in believing there was an imminent threat of death or bodily harm and thus acted in self-defense. So when someone tries to break into a house in the middle of the night, a parent does not need to wait to see if the intruders are armed, and thus might be a threat to that person’s children or spouse.

This does not, however, mean that there are no limits to how “stand your ground” applies. The “no duty of retreat” rule does not apply to people who are in places where they have no right to be, or people in the process of breaking the law. And if evidence establishes that the defendant provoked the violence in the first place, the rules become much more complex. But none of these considerations apply to Anderson, or the three residents whose homes were invaded, based on the available public information.

Nationally, Florida’s “stand your ground” statute came to prominence due to the 2012 shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin. Without commenting on the outcome of George Zimmerman’s trial, it is worth noting that (perhaps ironically) Zimmerman did not pursue immunity under “stand your ground” at all, instead claiming self-defense. He did not cite the law to justify a failure to retreat because he claimed that he had no opportunity to retreat.

There is nothing to celebrate in these recent Florida shootings. An avoidable death is still a sad thing, especially when the deceased is a young person who could have gone on to a rewarding and productive life. But the tragedy in these situations is ultimately not the shooter’s fault. Contrary to the local newspaper’s characterization, it is not the fault of a nation “besieged by guns,” either. The guns used in self-defense don’t create the danger; the danger is created when someone breaks into an occupied home, or blocks a car on a predawn causeway and approaches its occupants with weapons already drawn.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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