Our guest blogger is Jon Soltz, founder and chairman of VoteVets.org.
The Trayvon Martin case has gripped the nation, and forced the country to re-examine our gun laws. But the horrible affair has struck me in another way, because of my two tours in Iraq. One fact stands out in my mind: The “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, which may let George Zimmerman off the hook for the killing of Martin, gives more leeway to shooters than our own military gives to soldiers in war.
VoteVets.org has more than 105,000 members who take a wide array of views on gun control and the 2nd Amendment, but the Trayvon Martin case is less about the right to bear arms than it is the “use of force.” It’s impossible to ignore the legal protection George Zimmerman enjoys in suburban Florida vs. the Rules of Engagement that outline when one of our troops can shoot while in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The U.S. military issues Rules of Engagement (ROE) for every conflict to guide servicemembers’ ability to protect themselves from deadly threats while responding only with the necessary and proportionate level of force in a dangerous situation. The Rules of Engagement for Operation Iraqi Freedom laid out a clear set of steps that U.S. forces must take, up to and including deadly force if necessary, when responding to a threat or hostile act.
A key component of the ROE used during the height of violence in Iraq in 2007 was the requirement to use “Graduated Force” when time and circumstances permit. Section 3.G.(1) states that if an individual “commit[s] a hostile act or demonstrat[es] hostile intent” — meaning he or she attacks U.S. or designated allied forces, nationals, or property, or threatens the imminent use of force against any of them — U.S. Force “may use force, up to and including deadly force, to eliminate the threat.” However, the rule also explicitly instructs forces, “when time and circumstances permit,” to use the following “graduated measures of force” when responding to hostile act or hostile intent:
3.G.(1)(A) (U) Shout verbal warnings to halt;
3.G.(1)(B) (U) Show your weapon and demonstrate intent to use it;
3.G.(1)(C) (U) Physically restrain, block access, or detain;
3.G.(1)(D) (U) Fire a warning shot (if authorized);
3.G.(1)(E) (U) Shoot to eliminate the threat.
This rule laid out a code of conduct that troops in Iraq adopted and employed in high-risk hostile situations. We were trained to respond to a threat by quickly assessing its level and urgency and, where time and circumstances permit, to “Shout – Show – Shove – Shoot.” As the shorthand makes clear, we approached threats with a clear set of steps to take before firing a weapon. The bottom line goal was always to minimize unnecessary deaths.
These rules are enforced: using deadly force after failing to follow this procedure leads you open to charges of manslaughter and a court-martial.
In fact, Richard Allen Smith, the vice chairman of VoteVets.org, recently told me a story he had heard during his time in Afghanistan, which illustrates this point.