By Myra Saturen
February 27, 2014
"Stand Your Ground Laws are a good method of protecting public safety." Members of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society and Student Senate debated this statement on February 27 at Northampton Community College's annual student debate, a part of the College's observation of Black History Month.
Each side based their arguments on legal decisions and cases, historical documents, research studies, and philosophical writings. Their opinions were not necessarily their own, but rather assigned positions. The Student Senate team represented the affirmative side, while the PTK team assumed the opposite stance.
The law, first passed in Florida, gives individuals the right to use deadly force to defend themselves without any requirement to evade or retreat from a dangerous situation. Seventeen states have this law or a similar one on their books.
Some of the questions raised and examined: which is instinctive to human nature, fight or flight? Student Senators maintained that in cases where mortal danger is perceived, deadly force should be permitted, though not mandated and that self-defense is instinctual to human nature. PTK members countered that the notion of serious peril may be a misperception or an irrational fear. "If the obligation is to retreat, can a person outrun a gun?" a student senator asked.
Are Stand Your Ground laws effective in protecting the public? Taking Florida as an example, PTK members presented studies that concluded that homicide actually rose after the state instituted its Stand Your Ground law. Student Senators disputed this, saying that correlation is not the same as causation and therefore factors other than the laws may be responsible for the increase in crime.
What part does racial bias play? PTK offered evidence that white people are six times more likely to successfully use a Stand Your Ground defense than are black people.
In defending Stand Your Ground, Student Senators said that all such attributed cases are investigated.
Whom do Stand Your Ground laws benefit? Student Senators claimed that the law benefits everyone. PTK debaters argued that the laws work to the advantage of criminals, people with grudges and gang members. "It is summary execution by a faux law enforcement officer," said one.
The event was presented by the Martin Luther King Committee and moderated by Brian Alnutt, assistant professor of history. Debaters from Student Senate included Kristoff Riley, Logan Paff and Wesley Smith. Arguing on the PTK side were Aaron Rosengarten, James Mautz and Marcu Katynski. Judges included Tyrone Wright, student success administrator; Vertel Martin, professor, criminal justice; and Vasiliki Anastasakos, professor, political science.
While both sides received praise for their knowledge and preparedness, the judges decided that PTK had presented a more compelling case and named them the winners. Audrey Harvey, associate professor, information services librarian, presented them with a plaque.
A research team of Krystina Clements, Jenna DeFrancisco and Beth Miller assisted the debaters.
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