Wednesday, November 6, 2013

ASLH and Stand Your Ground

[The following is a guest post from Christopher Capozzola, an Associate Professor of History at MIT.  We are aware of how seriously the ASLH's leadership took such concerns when voiced this summer, and we credit them for arranging the panel to which Professor Capozolla refers.  We are grateful to Professor Capozzola for sending us this post.]

Like many readers of the Legal History Blog, I’m looking forward to this weekend’s annual meeting of the American Society for Legal History. But I know I’m not alone in having mixed feelings about going to Florida in the wake of this summer’s trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, given that some individuals and organizations have called for a boycott of Florida tourism.

As we gather in Miami this weekend, I believe legal historians have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to contribute to a national conversation about the Stand Your Ground laws on the books in 27 states. As a historian who has written about the history of private policing and self-defense, I know these issues have a long history. But evidence clearly shows that Stand Your Ground laws are recent innovations that depart markedly from longstanding but restricted traditions of citizen self-defense; run the risk of endangering young people of color; and contribute to an escalation of public firearm violence that this country is currently failing to address.

I’m excited to see that the ASLH Program Committee has convened a special session on Saturday November 9 from 4:15 to 6:00pm on Race, Crime, and Stand Your Ground in Historical Perspective. The panel features Anthony V. Alfieri, Elizabeth Dale, Raymond T. Diamond, and Tamara F. Lawson, who bring expertise on criminal law, firearms regulation, and Stand Your Ground laws. The session will be chaired by the ASLH’s current and incoming presidents, Bruce H. Mann and Michael Grossberg, and I thank them for their leadership on this issue.

Sorry to say, I won’t be at the session, because at that time I will be chairing and commenting on a fantastic session on Regimes of Control: Deportation, Exclusion, and Regulation in U.S. Domestic and Foreign Policy. (Please come!)

But I do feel that I can’t go to Florida without taking some action, both as a citizen and from my perspective as a historian. I realize we may not all agree, and want to make it clear that I’m not speaking for the Legal History Blog or the ASLH. But I urge conference attendees and ASLH members to make their views known to the State of Florida; to stand with organizations that are organizing against Stand Your Ground laws; and to encourage the ASLH to express its members' collective sentiments on Florida's Stand Your Ground law.