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Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - 7:02pm

SSU Panel Takes Up Stand Your Ground Expansion

Georgia’s beefed-up gun rights law will expand not just where it’s legal to carry guns but also who can claim a Stand Your Ground defense.

Under the law Governor Deal signed last week, accused shooters can try to avoid prosecution under the state’s Stand Your Ground law even if they have their gun illegally. Convicted felons who are not allowed to own a firearm, for instance, will soon be able to seek Stand Your Ground protection.

They will still be subject to prosecution on illegal weapons charges.

Speaking at a panel hosted by Savannah State University Wednesday evening, board member Ed Stone said it’s important to remember that not all felons are violent or dangerous.

“Think about Martha Stewart, for instance,” he told GPB after the event. “She is a convicted felon, and I believe she has every much of a right to defend herself against rape, robbery, or murder as do you or I.”

Stone also suggested allowing felons to claim Stand Your Ground might allow more people of color to benefit from that defense. A majority of convicted felons are men of color, he reasoned, so the change could help even out disparities in how the law is applied.

Several speakers on the panel raised concerns that the Stand Your Ground defense is most often successful in cases with a white shooter and a black victim. They felt expanding the law will only worsen those disparities.

Panelists also worried Stand Your Ground might have a negative impact on society. Eastern Circuit Public Defender Michael Edwards said that although the new law will mean more of his clients can try for a Stand Your Ground defense, he’s not sure it’s a just policy.

“I think that there are many occasions that law is a poor substitute for justice,” Edwards told GPB, “and this may very well be one of those circumstances.”

He explained that while it may be legal to stand your ground and shoot in self defense, “a person that has the ability and the willingness to step away from a situation, to turn his or her back or his or her cheek, as it may be, has an opportunity to do justice and to be a peacemaker.”

The new gun rights law will go into effect July 1.

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