Commentary: Marissa Alexander and Gun Rights

Marissa Alexander

Commentary: Marissa Alexander and Gun Rights

Why "Stand Your Ground" laws don't apply to women.

Published November 20, 2013

(Photo: Courtesy of Florida State Attorney's Office)

"Stand Your Ground" laws are now something most Americans have heard of. The killing of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman made "Stand Your Ground" a part of the national conversation and the continued fascination with the conservative backed laws, continue to be debated as Marissa Alexander languishes in prison awaiting her new trial next March.

Marissa Alexander is a 32-year-old mother who fired a warning shot that hit no one during a dispute with her abusive husband, Rico Gray, in 2011. Alexander had no criminal record and had given birth to a baby just nine days prior to the incident.

Alexander fired a warning shot at her abusive husband during a confrontation and was charged, tried and convicted for aggravated assault. The "Stand Your Ground" defense — which allows a person to use deadly force to defend themselves from serious bodily harm — did not work for Alexander and as a result she was sentenced to 20 years under Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws. 

"Stand Your Ground" and gun safety are two related issues where gender matters. After the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, conservative gun rights supporters made the rounds claiming that giving every woman a gun would prevent rape and domestic violence. Gail Trotter, a senior fellow at the independent women’s forum, testified before Congress that she thinks gun control and assault weapons bans are sexist, saying, “An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon.  And the peace of mind she has…knowing she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened violent criminals.”

Let’s review shall we: Alexander, originally sentenced to 20 years in prison after her first trial, is still in prison awaiting a new trial because she fired her licensed handgun into the air as a warning shot to her abusive husband during a violent confrontation. The bullet did not hit anyone and yet she was charged with aggravated assault for “defending her babies” in her home. Alexander is in prison, so it’s clear that "Stand Your Ground" and her Second Amendment rights didn’t apply here, otherwise gun rights supporters like Trotter and the NRA would rush to Alexander’s defense. 

The reality is that women simply do not have the same freedom to stand their ground or defend themselves from violence. The idea that “giving every woman a gun” would prevent sexual assault or domestic violence does not match with reality. Women who defend themselves from their abusers often end up in prison and are not trotted out as conservative heroes by defenders of the Second Amendment. 

More than half of women in prison have a history of abuse. Furthermore, women who kill their abusers face exponentially longer prison sentences than male domestic abusers who kill women. According to the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project, "The average prison sentence for men who kill their intimate partners is 2 to 6 years. Women who kill their partners are sentenced, on average, to 15 years." 

The idea that the Second Amendment, "Stand Your Ground" laws or giving every woman an AR-15 will prevent violence against women is not only completely wrong, the opposite is true. Countless real life scenarios illustrate that women do not have the same freedom to defend themselves from violence. The message is clear: You can "Stand Your Ground," unless you are a woman.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Written by Zerlina Maxwell


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