Commentary by Vernon Gray
Never let it be said that Democratic politicians will not miss any opportunity to exploit a tragedy for political gain. The latest example is the Zimmerman-Martin shooting in Florida, which is being exploited for the benefit of racial politics and gun controls.
It is the ultimate goal of the anti-gun movement to achieve the elimination of the private possession and ownership of firearms in this country. The majority of Americans who own firearms do so for personal protection. Accordingly, the campaign to disarm Americans cannot fully succeed while the right of self-defense remains a legitimate reason to own firearms. Now, they will attempt to use Zimmerman-Martin to further weaken self-defense laws.
Self-defense begins with having the means to do so. Maryland has a very restrictive handgun concealed-carry permit law that requires “a good and substantial reason to wear, carry, or transport a handgun, such as a finding that the permit is necessary as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger.” For personal protection, “There must be documented evidence of recent threats, robberies, and/or assaults, supported by official police reports or notarized statements from witnesses,” which appears to provide for armed personal protection only after becoming a victim of crime and with the expectation of it continuing.
Even if you do have a permit to carry a concealed handgun, its usefulness in public for self-defense is limited because Maryland law requires that, outside of one’s home, a person, before using deadly force in self-defense, (1) has the duty “’to retreat or avoid danger if such means were within his power and consistent with his safety;” (2) must have reasonable grounds to believe himself in apparent imminent or immediate danger of death or serious bodily harm; (3) must not have been the aggressor or provoked the conflict; and, (4) the force used must have not been unreasonable and excessive than the exigency reasonably demanded.
The duty to retreat does not apply if attacked in one’s home: “A man faced with the danger of an attack upon his dwelling need not retreat from his home to escape the danger, but instead may stand his ground and, if necessary to repel the attack, may kill the attacker.” This principle is known as the “Castle Doctrine,” the name derived from the principle that “a man’s home is his castle” and his ultimate retreat. A person “is not bound to flee and become a fugitive from his own home, for, if that were required, there would, theoretically, be no refuge for him anywhere in the world.” However, even in one’s own home, the degree of force used in self-defense must not be “excessive” and “all other means of preventing the crime must first be exhausted.”
A claim of self-defense involving the use of deadly force is largely dependent upon a legal determination that the person acted reasonably. It can be determined to be an “imperfect” self-defense wherein all the elements of a perfect self-defense are established, except the subjective belief of apparent imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm is not objectively reasonable, i.e., where a person honestly, but mistakenly, believes him or herself to be in imminent danger and thus unreasonably responds with deadly force. Consequently, the person can be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
To summarize, the rules of engagement affecting self-defense in Maryland are:
• A criminal can carry a concealed handgun, but a law-abiding citizen is unlikely to be permitted to do so.
• A criminal can choose to attack, but a law-abiding citizen must retreat, if possible, except at home.
• A criminal is free to employ any degree of force, including deadly force, but a law-abiding citizen’s response must be determined to be reasonable and not excessive.
A law-abiding Maryland citizen acting in self-defense is at a distinct disadvantage against criminals, and the person’s subjective decisions and actions made in split seconds are going to be second-guessed and objectively examined at length by the criminal justice system with the possibility of subsequent prosecution and conviction for an imperfect self-defense. For example, a person might be asked the trick question, “Did you shoot to kill or to only wound?” If you had time to think about it, then were you really in “imminent” danger? Self-defense includes requesting the presence of an attorney.