The Corner

Obama Voted to Strengthen Illinois’s Stand Your Ground Law in 2004

President Obama spent part of his surprise appearance at last Friday’s White House press briefing urging that the Stand Your Ground laws that exist in 31 states be reexamined. But only nine years ago, in the Illinois state senate, he co-sponsored a bill that strengthened his state’s 1961 Stand Your Ground law.

“It may be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations, confrontations, and tragedies as we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations,” Obama said last Friday. “I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that Stand Your Ground laws in Florida were not used as a defense of the case. On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed has a right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from the situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?”

“And for those who resist that idea that we should think about these Stand Your Ground laws, I just have to ask these people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk, and do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?” he asked.

He went on to say, “and if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.”

But the Illinois Review says Obama didn’t seem to have any of those concerns when in 2004 he co-sponsored S.B. 2386, which broadened the state’s Stand Your Ground law “by shielding the person who was attacked from being sued in civil court by perpetrators or their estates when a ’stand your ground’ defense is used in protecting his or her person, dwelling or other property.”

S.B. 2386 passed the Illinois state senate by a 56–0 vote on March 25, 2004. It sailed through the state house with only two “nay” votes. Both chambers were controlled by Democrats.

Stand Your Ground laws weren’t always much of a partisan issue. Florida’s law passed in 2005 after being approved unanimously in the state senate and on a 94–20 vote in the state house.

There was little outcry about the change from minority communities. Perhaps that’s because, as The Daily Caller discovered, “African Americans benefit from Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground” self-defense law at a rate far out of proportion to their presence in the state’s population, despite an assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder that repealing ’stand your ground’ would help African Americans.”

A third of Florida’s Stand Your Ground claims in homicide cases are made by African-Americans, a rate nearly double the black percentage of the state’s population. The majority of those claims have been successful, a success rate that exceeds that of Florida whites.

The Democratic Senate will be holding hearings on state Stand Your Ground laws in September. Here’s hoping some witnesses will be allowed to clear the air about the reality surrounding such laws. 

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