Fox News is using an ad opposing Stand Your Ground self-defense laws that reenacted the fatal 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to revive the false claim that Florida's Stand Your Ground statute played no role in the acquittal of Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman.
On August 19, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence released an online ad reenacting the night Martin was killed as part of an effort to seek the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws, which are on the books in more than 20 states. Those laws drew controversy after Martin's death, with critics claiming Florida's broad self-defense statute had provided Zimmerman with too much leeway to kill Martin without repercussion. On July 13, a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty of murder or manslaughter in Martin's killing. Two days later, a juror told CNN that they felt neither crime applied because Zimmerman had “a right to defend himself” by killing Martin under Stand Your Ground, which should have ended all debate over whether the law played a role in the case.
But while discussing the CSGV ad on the August 20 edition of America Live, guest anchor Shannon Bream said, “Let me also start with the fact that the Stand Your Ground law was not used in the Zimmerman case, but that's what this ad is all about. Does it do a disservice to both sides of this debate if we're starting from a place that's not even factually accurate?”
After radio host Richard Fowler attempted to correct Bream by accurately stating that the Stand Your Ground defense was described in instructions to the jury, Larson falsely responded, “No, it wasn't.”
From the August 20 edition of America Live:
BREAM: Richard, let me also start with the fact that the Stand Your Ground law was not used in the Zimmerman case, but that's what this ad is all about. Does it do a disservice to both sides of this debate if we're starting from a place that's not even factually accurate?
FOWLER: The facts are that the Stand Your Ground law was in the jury instructions and beyond that --
LARSON: No, it wasn't. No it wasn't.
Larson is wrong. The publicly available Zimmerman trial jury instructions -- which were entirely based on Florida's Stand Your Ground self-defense law -- stated: “If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
The jury instructions are nearly identical in wording to the text of Florida's Stand Your Ground law. According to Dan Gelber, a former Florida state senator and former prosecutor who opposes the law, Stand Your Ground “fundamentally changed the analysis used by juries to assign blame in these cases.” The law was also important to the case because it was cited by authorities as a reason for why Zimmerman was not initially arrested after shooting Martin.
Larson claimed later in his appearance that “in the jury instructions there was language that was similar to Stand Your Ground that was inserted on the part of the prosecutors trying to convince a jury, but it wasn't about Stand Your Ground.”
This is also inaccurate. In the Zimmerman trial, the judge -- not the prosecution, or defense for that matter -- had the final say on what instructions went to the jury.
The denial of the role of Stand Your Ground has been commonplace on Fox News since Zimmerman's acquittal. In making inaccurate claims about Stand Your Ground on America Live, Bream becomes at least the 17th Fox employee to supply false information about the role of the law on the Zimmerman trial.
Larson also pushed a debunked myth about the prevalence of defensive gun uses in the United States in order to suggest that Stand Your Ground laws are necessary, claiming that a Department of Justice (DOJ) study found that “more than 2 million times a year” guns are used defensively to stop crimes. In fact that figure is based on the debunked research of criminologist Gary Kleck, not a government study. An actual study commissioned by the DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics found guns were used defensively roughly 100,000 times per year, a figure less than one-twentieth the size of the one cited by Larson.
While it is difficult to accurately estimate the total number of defensive gun uses, research by the members of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that as a ratio, "[g]uns are used to threaten and intimidate far more often than they are used in self defense."