Playing cop
Leave policing to the police
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A permit to carry a concealed gun does not make you a cop. Utah's "stand your ground" law is not a license to use deadly force in self-defense except in very narrow circumstances. People who carry firearms in Utah should remember those things.

We mention this in light of the sad case of Trayvon Martin, which has focused attention on "stand your ground" laws in Florida and elsewhere. He's the 17-year-old Florida kid who was shot to death in February by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch member with a concealed carry permit. Zimmerman believed that Martin looked suspicious. He followed Martin, who was walking. A confrontation occurred, and Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest.

Zimmerman claims he fired in self-defense after Martin pummeled him to the ground. Martin's family disputes that. They say he had done nothing wrong and was carrying nothing more dangerous than Skittles after walking to a 7-Eleven.

Zimmerman has not been arrested. The case has caused a national furor.

Utah's "stand your ground" law says that people are not obliged to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense if they believe they are in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death. It has been on the books since 1994.

Advocates of armed self-defense say Utah's law has never been a problem. That's debatable. In 2009, two neighborhood watch advocates, both armed, confronted each other in Bluffdale. One shot the other, paralyzing him. The shooter claimed self-defense but was convicted of attempted murder.

Utah's law is 76-2-402 of the Utah Criminal Code. It states, in part, "A person is justified in using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury only if the person reasonably believes that force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the person or a third person as a result of another person's imminent use of unlawful force, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

But that's only part of a complex law. For example, people are not obliged to retreat from unlawful force or a threat of same if they are in a place they have lawfully entered or remained. So the setting matters. It matters, too, whether a person has voluntarily started a fight, or whether one party is committing a felony crime.

To determine whether a use of force was lawful, a court will take its time to carefully weigh these circumstances. A person in an armed confrontation, by contrast, will have to make this decision in seconds or fractions of seconds.

Reasonable people will not deliberately place themselves in that situation. They will not act like George Zimmerman.