But the early questions raised by the McBride case are not unique, gun control advocates say. Nearly 30 states around the country—many of them deeply red and guided by overwhelmingly Republican legislatures—maintain a “Stand your ground” law on the books, says Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
“Stand your ground” laws vary but generally give gun owners the legal right to shoot or otherwise injure anyone they believe poses an imminent threat of serious danger. The laws also remove any duty to attempt to retreat from a conflict or danger before one uses deadly force. Lobbyists for the National Rifle Association, the nation’s leading gun-rights organization, and politicians who count themselves among the membership of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC—a group that aims to ensure that corporate interests are represented when policy discussions happen—pushed the laws onto the books in 27 states. Most of the policies have been implemented in the last decade.
“And now I think what we are seeing—[in] Michigan and Florida and many other states where we have seen these, at minimum, questionable shootings happen—are the deadly and dangerous results,” says Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, a civil rights organization that worked to expose the role of ALEC and the NRA in spreading “Stand your ground” laws to states across the nation. Some of ALEC’s largest current and former corporate members, such as Wal-Mart, also sell guns.
Florida—which some gun control advocates have described as a virtual laboratory for policies favored by the NRA—became the first state in the nation to enact a “Stand your ground” law. It was also the first state to issue permits allowing almost anyone to carry a concealed weapon in public. In addition, it is home to more than 1 million concealed-carry permit holders, more than any other state in the nation.
The 2012 shooting deaths of Florida teens Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have drawn national attention to “Stand your ground” laws. Both boys were black and unarmed. A Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman, who was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the Trayvon shooting, in July. At least one member of the jury said that the panel decided to send Zimmerman home because it was unclear that he had actually broken Florida law when he shot and killed Trayvon. Michael David Dunn faces first-degree-murder charges in connection with the Davis shooting. He insists that he shot at the teen and drove away because he feared for his life.
Despite NRA claims that “Stand your ground” laws help provide much-needed legal cover to law-abiding armed citizens who can contribute to community safety, a whole range of crimes, including homicides, have increased in states with these laws, according to a 2012 study (pdf) by Texas A&M University. And, opponents claim, gun owners often face vastly different penalties when the people they shoot and kill are black.
“‘Stand your ground,’ combined with the discrimination and inequality that is inherent in our justice system and larger society, is sort of like combining gun power and a match,” says Robinson. He declined to comment on the specifics of McBride’s death, since many details remain unclear.
McBride’s funeral is scheduled for Friday at a Detroit church.
Janell Ross is a reporter in New York who covers political and economic issues. She is working on a book about race, economic inequality and the recession, due to be published by Beacon Press next year. Follow her on Twitter.