Stand Your Ground

Stand Your Ground Laws in America: Where They Exist, and What They Mean

Versions of stand your ground laws exists in almost a third of American states. What is the law, and how does it affect the states in which it’s implemented?

What are stand your ground laws?

A stand your ground law is a self-defense law that allows one person to use deadly force on another if there is reasonable belief that they will do them harm, whether or not they are an actual threat.

The law removes an individual’s duty to retreat before using deadly force on a supposed threat. Versions of this law apply to about half of US states – mostly in the form of something called the Castle Doctrine, which applies specifically to one’s right to defend themselves in their home when attacked.[contextly_auto_sidebar]

In contrast to the Castle Doctrine, stand your ground laws apply to any place a person can legally be. Florida, in 2005, was the first state to expand a person’s rights to use deadly force as self-defense, with many others following suit in recent years.

24 states currently have self-defense laws similar to Florida  – These states are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia, as listed by the non-profit newsroom ProPublica. Laws vary slightly by state; by clicking on each you can see it in full.

Why is it good?

Supporters of self-defense laws such as the Castle Doctrine and stand your ground laws attest that it is the American’s right to defend themselves when in harm’s way without the risk of prison or worse, the death penalty, under circumstances that could not be helped.

Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), states his belief that states should “fully protect the right of law-abiding people to use force in defense of themselves and one another, without fear of prison or bankruptcy. Decent people have a right to nothing less.”

Why is the law problematic?

Image courtesy of the Washington Post

The law is problematic, however, because shooters can claim self defense regardless of the actual situation, and so long as they are the only witness, face no repercussions for their actions. Statistically, implementation of the law also points to increases in justifiable murder.

As noted by the Washington Post, since the stand your ground laws were nacted in Florida, data of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement shows that cases of justifiable killings tripled, from 12 five years before the law was passed, to 36 five years after.

In addition, studies by the Texas A&M University found that states with expanded Castle Doctrines did not show any less cases of burglary or assault, but rather corresponded with an increase in reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters: a significant 8 percent increase, to be exact, or a  total of 600 more murders a year between the 21 states studied.

Should these laws be reexamined?

In 2015 the American Bar Association urged ” legislative bodies and governmental agencies to significantly modify or refrain from enacting laws that eliminate the duty to retreat before using force in self-defense in public places.”

Others have also expressed concern over self defense laws that they think may contribute more violence than they prevent.

Updated. Cover photo images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, modified by Curiousmatic.

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Jennifer Markert