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February 26, 2014 3:37 PM No Questions Asked After Shooting First

By Ed Kilgore

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick perfectly articulates a feeling a lot of us have had about the connection between liberalized gun laws and “Stand Your Ground” statutes protecting first use of deadly force:

The fact that “stand your ground” defenses have been staggeringly successful in Florida in recent years (one study shows it’s been invoked more than 200 times since being enacted in 2005 and used successfully in 70 percent of the cases) suggests that it’s been embedded into more than just jury instructions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a Tampa Bay Times study from 2012 shows that “as ‘stand your ground’ claims have increased, so too has the number of Floridians with guns. Concealed weapons permits now stand at 1.1 million, three times as many as in 2005 when the law was passed.” Put bluntly: As Floridians sense that other Floridians plan to shoot first, they buy more guns. Think about it: The National Rifle Association that has pushed so hard for “stand your ground” laws in recent years is the same National Rifle Association that has put so many guns, and such lethal guns, in so many hands—concealed carry, open carry, wave-it-around-and-call-it-free-speech carry. The gun lobby has single-handedly made certain that the very definition of what one might reasonably expect from an altercation at a Walmart, a movie theater, or a gas station has changed. By seeking to arm everyone in America, the NRA has in fact changed our reasonable expectation of how fights will end, into a self-fulfilling prophecy about how fights will end. It should surprise you not at all to learn that of the 10 states with the most lenient gun laws in America, seven support “stand your ground.” In those jurisdictions shooting first isn’t merely “reasonable.” It borders on sensible.

And so the vision of America as a predatory jungle that the gun lobby has carefully nurtured is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy:

Every time we hear about a Zimmerman, a Dunn, or a Cyle Wayne Quadlin, we get a little bit closer to believing that we need to become a Zimmerman, a Dunn, or a Cyle Wayne Quadlin merely to protect ourselves. And then it gets a little bit easier for us to relate to, and to believe, the next Zimmerman, Dunn, or Cyle Wayne Quadlin. It’s a perfect loop of logic. We define the reasonableness of a lethal response by the growing number of lethal responders. “Stand your ground” laws, or at least the public conception of what they do, are changing the way the rest of us think about self-protection. This is, of course, exactly the world the NRA dreams of constructing: Everyone armed and paranoid that everyone else is armed. But the old canard that an armed society is a polite society is pretty much bunk. Ours is not a polite society; we are rude and hotheaded and terrified. Now we have guns to help us sort it all out.

To put it another way, we have in recent years steadily abandoned the idea that our government ought to have a monopoly on the use of deadly force, with exceptions reflecting the reality that some lawbreakers won’t honor that monopoly. With the exceptions increasingly becoming the rule, it’s not surprising that a concealed-carry nation is tolerating more and more laws that minimize the questions asked after someone shoots first.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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