Stand Your Ground

Did Obama Vote for a 'Stand Your Ground' Bill?



Yesterday The Washington Times ran a story claiming that President Obama "co-sponsored [a] 'stand your ground' law" when he was a state senator in Illinois. The first sign of confusion in this misleading story is in the first sentence, which describes "stand your ground" statutes as "gun laws" and the principle they establish as a "right-to-carry rule." Contrary to the implication, "stand your ground" laws are not weapon-specific; they eliminate the duty to retreat for someone attacked in a public place, regardless of how he chooses to defend himself. In fact, a state could recognize a right to stand your ground even while prohibiting people from carrying guns in public. That is what Illinois has done for at least half a century. The Criminal Code of 1961, in laying out the circumstances where the use of force is justified, made no mention of a duty to retreat. Yet until this year, when a deadline set by a federal appeals court decision compelled the state legislature to change the policy, there was no "right to carry" in Illinois.

The 2004 bill cited by the Times, S.B. 2386, created neither a right to carry nor a right to stand your ground (which already existed). The original version did refer to guns, saying, "It is an affirmative defense to a violation of a municipal ordinance that prohibits, regulates, or restricts the private ownership of firearms if the individual who is charged with the violation used the firearm in an act of self-defense or defense of another." But that provision was eliminated by an amendment that substituted language shielding people from civil liability for the justified use of force. It is fair to say that the final version of the bill, which Obama supported, "strengthened Illinois' 1961 'stand your ground' law," as the Illinois Review puts it. But the ban on lawsuits by aggressors applies to any self-defense situation, whether at home or elsewhere. Obama therefore could argue that his vote for the bill did not necessarily mean he agreed with applying the "stand your ground" principle to public places, which is the aspect of Florida's law that he and Attorney General Eric Holder have criticized.

More likely, as John Fund suggests at National Review Online, the bill was not controversial at the time because the legal definition of self-defense was not yet perceived as a partisan issue. The legislation was unanimously approved by the Democrat-controlled state Senate and passed the Democrat-controlled House with the assent of all but two members. Fund notes that Florida's "stand your ground" law, enacted the following year, had similarly strong bipartisan support.

My former Reason colleague Dave Weigel, in a Slate post that Matt Gertz of Media Matters cites to debunk the Illinois Review's report, questions the premise that Illinois has a "stand your ground" law, "because Florida was pretty famously the first state to pass a 'stand your ground' law, a year after this Illinois bill." While Florida started the recent wave of laws abolishing the duty to retreat, other states already recognized a right to stand your ground outside the home. A 2012 ProPublica report noted that Illinois' self-defense law "does not include a duty to retreat, which courts have interpreted as a right to expansive self-defense." Although Weigel claims the 2004 bill was merely "a tweak to the 'castle doctrine'" (which applies in the home), he quotes only the part of the law related to the "use of force in defense of other property," which does not specify a location. He overlooks the parts addressing the "use of force in defense of [a] dwelling" and the "use of force in defense of [a] person" (again, no setting specified). Since the liability shield for which Obama voted in 2004 applies in all of these contexts, it did have the effect of strengthening the right to stand your ground, although he can plausibly claim that was not his intent.

NEXT: FDA Cracks Down on Products Claiming to Help Fight Diabetes

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Co-sponsored or co-presented?

  2. Weigel quotes only the part of the law related to the “use of force in defense of [a] dwelling,” overlooking the parts addressing the “use of force in defense of other property” and the “use of force in defense of [a] person” (no setting specified).

    Weigel selectively quoting in order to make Obama look good? This is my surprised face.

    1. As the post notes, that’s not really true that Florida started SYG. It was just an extension, more or less, of the castle doctrine.

      1. It was moreover simply a formal codification of what was already understood to be the law.

    2. Right you both are. But the current narrative on the left is that the only purpose behind these laws is for white men to shoot african youths. So this could turn out to be very embarassing for any leftist politician who has in any way supported (or failed to vocally oppose) such laws.

      1. Not likely. Not when you have friends like Weigel ready to explain that, of course, we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

        If they even deign to say anything about it at all.

  3. Like you’re going to “gotcha” a politician that has the opposite of principles (which admittedly is pretty much all of them). Obama could have personally sponsored a bill in IL called “stand your ground” and that revelation would have all the impact of a jellyfish with the side of a tanker ship to his sycophants and the media.

    1. Obama is so bad that he’s a politician to politicians.

      1. He’s a meta-politician?

        1. I was thinking more smegma-politician.

    2. Sure. A journolist hack like Weigel will just pretend the law doesn’t mean what it says.

    3. also Bush did it.

    4. You know, now that you mention this, I think a cool thing to do with a time machine would be to go back and convince (pay) them to have named this the George Zimmerman law and get Obama on tape as supporting the George Zimmerman Stand Your Ground law. Just to watch the jellyfish bounce off, probably.

      1. Or got back in time and convince Zimmerman to just trust you and change his name to George Hernandez. I bet the media would have never touched the case and he never would have been tired if he had an Hispanic last name so the media couldn’t call him white.

        1. Former Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa likes this.

  4. I’m sure Obama will tell you he had to pass the bill to find out what was in it.

    1. Are you serious? Are you serious?

  5. Don’t ask him, he was just following orders from his master the lizard King Soros.


    Yes, Vegan is 21st century pig Latin for retarded fanatic. They really thought a kitten could go vegan. Poor thing.

    1. If we’re going to recognize civil liberties for animals, then they will also have responsibilities. Like converting from carnivore to herbivore.

    2. When my cat has a birthday, I throw him a raw catfish fillet. He loves his meat.

    3. A dog could probably go vegan if you were really diligent about it. A feline? Not so much. Cats eat grass so they can throw up in your shoes, not for the carbs and fiber.

      1. Dogs are like bears. They are omnivores and eaters of opportunity. But cats are true carnivores. Dogs will eat vegetables or fruit or about anything you feed them. Not so with cats.

    4. my dogs love eating muscadines from the vines on my porch. They get all the ones low enough for them to reach. The cat, not so much.

  7. This was before he learned the value of “present”?

  8. Obama could also go with the Romney defense.

    “That bill I signed was the right thing for Illinois at the time, but it would be the wrong thing for our nation as a whole. Also the wrong thing for Florida.”

  9. Since we’re still rehashing the Zimmerman case in this thread, anyone have a link to the tidbit one of you mentioned the other day that one of Martin’s uncles was a player in the Dade County Democratic Party apparatus, and that’s why the White House, et al, got so interested in the case?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.