Stand Your Ground

'Stand Your Ground' Is Neither New nor Unusual


Tampa Bay Times

Tampa Bay Times reporter Peter Jamison offers a well-informed, clear-headed analysis of "stand your ground" laws that emphasizes three crucial points:

1. The essence of "stand your ground" is the absence of a duty to retreat for people attacked outside their homes. Contrary to what New York Times editorialists and other clueless critics claim, "stand your ground" does not mean a person is justified in using lethal force when he "reasonably believes" it is necessary to prevent death or serious injury. As Jamison notes, "the idea that 'reasonable belief' in a threat justifies homicide prevails throughout the country." Furthermore, "it is not, as some observers have claimed, carte blanche for killers to act on ungrounded fears, but a test of what an ordinary, rational person would do in the same circumstances."

2. "Stand your ground" is not new. While "22 states…have enacted 'stand your ground'-type statutes in the past two decades," Jamison writes, "an additional nine have established through case law that there is no duty to retreat." The California Supreme Court, for example, "empowered its citizens to stand their ground and use deadly force in public places about 120 years ago."

3. "Stand your ground" is the rule, not the exception. "More than 225 million Americans live in states where they have no duty to retreat, either because of 'stand your ground' statutes or because of case law," notes an infographic accompanying Jamison's article. "Far fewer Americans—roughly 88 million—live in states where they have a duty to retreat."

In other words, there is no basis to the notion that Florida is a crazy outlier when it comes to the circumstances in which people attacked in public places are permitted to use deadly force. Jamison does note two aspects of Florida's self-defense law that are unusual, but they have nothing to do with "stand your ground" per se: The law prohibits the arrest of someone who claims to have killed in self-defense unless there is probable cause to doubt that claim, and it gives such a defendant the right to a pretrial hearing where he can try to persuade a judge by a preponderance of the evidence that the homicide was justified.

I wish that Jamison, who mentions the George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn cases, had noted the dearth of evidence that the absence of a duty to retreat played a role in the outcomes of their trials. It did not figure in their defenses, and it is hard to see how it could have swayed jurors' positions, assuming they understood the law. (Jamison's colleague Kris Hundley made just that point about the Zimmerman case a couple of days after his acquittal.) Jamison does note that Zimmerman's jury would have received essentially the same instructions if he had been tried in Illinois, which has been a "stand your ground" state for a lot longer than Florida has.

Another point it would have been worth exploring: Even in states that impose a duty to retreat, it may be qualified so much that in practice it is little different from "stand your ground." In New York, for example, the victim of a public assault is expected to retreat rather than use lethal force only if he "knows" he can do so "with complete personal safety" for himself and others. Furthermore, there is an exception for someone who "reasonably believes that [the] other person is committing or attempting to commit a kidnapping, forcible rape, forcible criminal sexual act or robbery."

Toward the end of his article, Jamison speculates that maybe the real problem with Florida is its nondiscretionary carry permit law, or perhaps the combination of that law with the absence of a duty to retreat. That is a can of worms he should not have opened so casually. The issue surely deserves a more careful examination than Jamison's reference to an analysis by the Guardian that found "a statistical correlation with an increase in justifiable homicides" in "states with both SYG laws and the weakest gun controls." That gloss raises obvious questions about cherry-picking, conflating correlation with causation, and assuming that an increase in homicides deemed to be justified, which you would expect to see even if the laws were working exactly as intended, is necessarily a bad thing.

On the whole, however, Jamison's piece is a welcome corrective to the usual fact-free debate about "stand your ground" laws. It is especially striking coming from the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times), which has been none too keen on Florida's law.

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  1. Canada, by way of case law, is a “stand your ground” state. There is no generalized duty to retreat in Canada.


    1. Ya but that cold weather tends to filter out the stupid.

      1. Well the RCMP and the federal government did just conspire to, overnight, make tens of thousands of Canadian firearms owners instant criminals. So there’s plenty of stupid left to go around.


        1. Well cold can only do so much…overlord stupidity is largely impervious to inclement weather.

        2. Blame…Connecticut?

    2. Hmm, I thought that Canada was a duty-to-retreat country. In fact, I thought that defending yourself in your home with a firearm was the short path to getting into hot water? Gonna have to do some reading…

  2. The problem in Florida doesn’t seem to be the Stand Your Ground Law, but an over supply of crazy old people who think “reasonable belief” includes being vaguely annoyed by a black person.

    It’s likely because of two many New Yorkers, having never experienced the sweet air of freedom until they moved to Florida after retirement, are unable to handle its introduction at that late an age and go crazy.

    1. I’m over feeling like a colony of the Northeast. Our saving grace is that our capital is situated close to Alabama.

    2. “but an over supply of crazy old people who think “reasonable belief” includes being vaguely annoyed by a black person.”

      Do you think you could elaborate on this?

        1. So, in other words, you can’t. Got it.

      1. Wasn’t the gas station shooting in Florida? Although that guy wasn’t that old and it wasn’t an example of SYG.

        1. “The problem in Florida doesn’t seem to be the Stand Your Ground Law”

        2. Funny that, neither was the Zimmerman case.

  3. My recollection is that ye olde self defense law had no duty to retreat. The proliferation of “stand your ground” laws is rolling back/ a reaction to a new limitation on the right to self defense.

    Its not a right to self defense when you are cornered, after all.

    There’s also the castle doctrine, which is occasionally described as “no duty to retreat in your own home”, which as accurate as far as it goes, but under-describes the original concept. ‘A [person’s] home is their castle” is the underpinning of the Fourth Amendment, and in the context of self-defense created a sort of de facto presumption that your fear of death etc. was reasonable, perhaps to the point of saying that you can use deadly force against any invader of your home, regardless of whether you thought your own demise was imminent.

    Bottom line: self-defense rights used to be much broader than they are now, and much of the activity is recapturing our traditional rights, not creating new ones.

    1. Quiet. Your facts are ruining the narrative.

      1. All hail the narrative!

    2. RC, I think in the Founding Era the English Common Law did have a duty to retreat, but very early on American jurisdictions became reluctant to keep it.

      1. “[T]he law requires, that the person, who kills another in his own
        defence, should have retreated as far as he conveniently or safely
        can, to avoid the violence of the assault, before he turns upon his


    3. Then the whole SYG thing is reactionary!


    4. Mr Dean brings me back to the golden age of Hit&Run;:…..nt_1023789

  4. Dude thats not making a whole lot of sense to me man.

    1. That’s because you have yet to achieve sentience.

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