Stand Your Ground? Responsible Gun Owners Need to Lead Charge Against Abuse of Gun Rights

In recent years, in state after state—including Tennessee—legislatures have:

• Installed gun permit programs allowing citizens to carry weapons on their person;

• Expanded the concept that a person's home is his castle to include vehicles, allowing weapons to be carried in a car or truck;

• Passed "stand your ground" legislation that says you do not have an obligation to run away from a threat but are allowed to use self defense.

Critics argued that these liberalizations of gun laws would lead to a "wild West" atmosphere. Considering the thousands and thousands of gun permits that have since been issued across the country, there have been remarkably few instances of these concepts being abused. Proponents have argued that carry laws have actually led to a decrease in crime in states that allow them. Whether the two are related is open to debate.

The issue remains volatile as the Trayvon Martin case down in Florida illustrated. Without knowing all the facts, the debate raged nationwide and led to an examination of the "stand your ground" defense. What does it mean if you feel threatened? (The case against George Zimmerman won't come to trial until sometime in 2013.)

There is another case brewing in Florida in which a man's lawyer is citing the "stand your ground" defense after his client emptied eight rounds into an SUV and killed a young black man.

What is not in dispute is that Michael Dunn, a white man visiting Jacksonville, pulled into a convenience store parking lot and was sitting in his car waiting for his girlfriend to buy a bottle of wine. He had pulled up beside a car containing four black teenagers with music blaring. They got into an argument when Dunn demanded they turn down the music.

Dunn pulled his pistol and put eight rounds into the boys' car, two of them into 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis, killing him. Dunn fled the scene, spent the night in a motel, and discovered the next morning that the young man was killed. He then fled Jacksonville, headed for home several hours away.

What disturbs me about the case is what happened when he was found and brought to court. His lawyer argued that he only did "what any responsible gun owner would do." He also said his client "felt threated" and would use the "stand your ground" defense.

Dunn now claims the youths had a shotgun and aimed it at him. The police found no evidence of a shotgun, Dunn fled the scene and the town, and if the youths had a shotgun aimed at him why didn't they return fire while he was unloading eight rounds?

Dunn did not act like a "responsible gun owner." And I hope those of us who support responsible gun ownership do not get carried away and start defending this guy. If we are to have responsible gun ownership and liberal carry laws, we have to be vigilant in not allowing people to hide misdeeds behind what should be legal and necessary self-defense.

Dunn will be tried and it will be up to the courts to decide if he is guilty of murder and three counts of attempted murder. But let's let the judicial process work. If Dunn did indeed feel threated merely by four unarmed kids playing loud rap music and opened fire, he needs to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Responsible gun owners cannot allow irresponsible gun owners to try and use law-abiding citizens' hard-won rights and put those rights in jeopardy. Dunn has a carry permit. If he did wrong, it should not negate the responsible practices of literally thousands of permit holders nationwide.

Responsible gun owners should be in the vanguard urging prosecution of people who abuse gun rights.

If gun bills come before the Tennessee Legislature this coming session and you support gun rights, be careful about trying to use this case to prove your point.

Your argument is the thousands of gun permit holders who are responsible and are able to provide self defense and peace of mind for their loved ones.