Local attorney and Clayton State University adjunct faculty member Herbert Adams recently had the opportunity to ask three critical questions of a group of Clayton State students.
Although Adams serves as an instructor of Criminal Justice for Clayton State, and he was certainly instructing students in a classroom, the occasion was an example of the University providing its students with opportunities for learning outside the classroom. Adams was facilitating a “New York Times Talk” on one of the most controversial social issues of the present day – so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws -- as part of the University’s Constitution Week events.
As part of his presentation, entitled, “Self-defense in Georgia: Lessons from the Zimmerman Trial,” Adams asked his audience to consider three critical questions about “Stand Your Ground” laws. In order, they were;
a. Do Stand Your Ground laws encourage or discourage violence?
b. Do they make our communities, especially communities of color, safer?
c. Should Georgia’s Stand Your Ground law be changed? If so, how?
During the course of the discussion on the Zimmerman Trial and Georgia’s version of the Florida Stand Your Ground law that that trial revolved around, Adams pointed out his goal was to, “define self-defense in Georgia with facts and knowledge.” In regards to the facts, Adams provided his audience with copies of Georgia’s self-defense (O.C.G.A. 16-3-21), use of force in defense of habitation (O.C.G.A. 16-3-23) and Stand Your Ground (O.C.G.A. 16-3-23.1) laws.
“We were talking about stand your ground laws generally, and in particular Georgia’s stand your ground law,” says Adams. “The George Zimmerman trial served as background for the discussion.”
Adams also provided some history about the genesis of stand your ground laws as a variation of self-defense, pointing out that such laws hark back to the ancient English legal doctrine known as the “Castle Doctrine,” which does indeed recognize that a (English)man’s home is his castle (O.C.G.A. 16-3-23 is an example of such a law) or, as Adams explained, “you have protection in the home you don’t have anywhere else.”
“My goal was to bring out the opinions of the Clayton State community, and to help the community understand the issues,” says Adams of his intent for the Constitution Week presentation. “As is the case with the Second Amendment, it is important to know what the law actually says and how it is applied before determining whether it needs to be changed.”
Clayton State junior Political Science major Donna Harley, a resident of Riverdale, was one of the participants in the New York Times Talk who learned something about Stand Your Ground and who subsequently felt, in conjunction with Adams’ third question, that Georgia’s law should be changed.
“I think (Georgia’s law) encourages violence,” she says. “I think it gives people a false sense of bravado, a false sense they wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s not a deterrent, it provides a loophole.
“I’d like (Georgia’s Stand Your Ground law) taken away, given what’s already in place with the self-defense and castle laws.”
Adams also points out that, if individuals feel “stand your ground” laws should be changed, there’s a way to do it.
“Who sets the laws?” he asked of his audience. “The legislators. Who elects the legislators? You do. If you don’t like a law, vote to change it.
“If you’re going to replace a law, though, be careful what you’re replacing it with.”