U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Tim Boyles/Getty Images)
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Tim Boyles/Getty Images)

My Post colleague Charles Krauthammer gave Attorney General Eric Holder a backhanded compliment on Fox News last night. The cantankerous conservative columnist applauded Holder’s speech to the NAACP yesterday as a deft move to deflect attention “away from the persecution, the continued persecution of George Zimmerman” and over to “stand your ground” laws. And I have to say, I don’t disagree with his analysis.

Let me state upfront that the notion that Zimmerman was and continues to be persecuted is offensive. Now, let’s move on.

Krauthammer is right in his analysis of the prosecutorial pickle in which the attorney general finds himself. As Holder told the crowd gathered in Orlando, the justice department has an open investigation into the killing of Trayvon Martin by Zimmerman. “While that inquiry is ongoing,” he said, “I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take.” But federal hate crime charges are unlikely as that bar is necessarily high. How about a federal civil rights violation against Zimmerman? While I certainly think Trayvon’s civil rights were violated, the justice department has a more stringent legal test than I. As it should. Federal intervention into a case already decided by a jury demands it.

But Holder’s focus on “stand your ground” laws was as smart as it was responsible. More than 30 states have such laws, which eliminate the duty to retreat to safety if one believes one’s life is in danger. Zimmerman initially claimed he was standing his ground after killing Trayvon. Even though it was not formally part of the trial, the jury instructions noted that if the former neighborhood watch volunteer was not doing anything illegal and had a right to be where he was at the time of the shooting then “he had no duty to retreat and the right to stand his ground.”

“[I]t’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods. These laws try to fix something that was never broken,” Holder said. “It is our collective obligation – we must stand our ground – to ensure that our laws reduce violence, and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent.”

Everyone has a role to play in going after these shoot-first statutes. Having the attorney general express exasperation about them and issue a call to action to do something about them is a much-needed boost to those who want to roll them back. But these measures are put in place by public officials put in office by voters. And it’s those voters, all concerned people, who must demand the return of sanity to self-defense laws.

Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.