Why Stand Your Ground Laws are Bad for States

Stand Your Ground Laws: A Cry for Repeal



Stand Your Ground Laws: A Cry for Repeal

Academic and Professional Writing for Graduate Students (LS526-01)

The “Stand Your Ground Law” is one of the most controversial laws in recent years and has gained notoriety due to its enactment in thirty-three states so far. Advocates of the law claim that it reduces the threat of violence in society, but the statistics prove otherwise as research shows that the law actually inflames race-based violence (Purdie-Vaughn, Williams, 2015). As such there are several states that have either taken a wary view of the law and have decided to steer clear of it, or have raised issue(s) with enactment of the law while considering it. It is because of this scrutiny the law has been misunderstood by some people, abused by others, and just manipulated and disguised as self-defense by the rest.

While the southern most states (i.e., Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) have claimed a decrease in crime due to the enactment of the “Stand Your Ground Law,” the law should be repealed because it is a less effective means of preventing violence and crime than the Duty to Retreat Laws of other states (Lave, 2013). The Stand Your Ground doctrine essentially encourages individuals to resort to a violent “showdown” even if there is the option of de-escalating the situation by retreating to a safe space. It promotes a posture of “self-defense” that is actually more akin to “aggression” judging by the number of cases in which the law has been used as a defense (Rocio, 2014; McClellan, Tekin, 2012). It also puts more civilians at risk and endangers far more lives precisely because of its aggressive nature. Thus, this paper will show why the Stand Your Ground laws should be repealed.

Stand Your Ground: A Cry for Repeal

Many states have a “Duty to Retreat” clause written into their Criminal Code. New Hampshire, for instance, holds that while a person is justified in using physical force in self-defense “a person is not justified in using deadly force … if he or she knows that he or she and the third person can, with complete safety, (a) retreat from the encounter … ” (New Hampshire Criminal Code, Section 627:4). New Hampshire’s law is similar to other New England states and was similar to many southern states’ laws until the latter changed them in favor of the Stand Your Ground law. However, the Stand Your Ground law is not an effective deterrent: on the contrary, it is an effective way to increase violence. Lave (2013) gives several examples of how this law promotes aggressive behavior that can lead to the use of deadly (and unnecessary) force: for instance, there is the case of 61-year-old Joe Horn who shot to death two escaping burglars, neither of whom had posed a threat to his physical person nor “had a prior record for any crime of violence” (Lave, 2013, p. 829). Ordinarily, Horn, having shot them in the back as they fled, “would be guilty of murder” — but in Texas, which had recently passed a Castle Doctrine modeled on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Horn was never even indicted (Lave, 2013, p. 829). Essentially, Texas asserted that Horn had the right to be judge, jury and executioner of the two men simply because they had trespassed on his property and stolen something that had belonged to him. In Texas, the philosophy of Stand Your Ground is quite clear: vengeance is no longer the Lord’s, it belongs to anyone who feels he has been wronged. It is a “wilderness” mentality, a doctrine of the “old west” where law and order were maintained at the end of a barrel. Is this what the 21st century in America should look like?

Such an attitude or philosophical outlook is very dangerous in America and should be stopped. It goes against the basic tenet of the Golden Rule, which is to treat others as you would like to be treated, and it goes against the principles of the Christian ethos, which is to love your neighbor. Stand Your Ground is a “wild west” type of law that pits everyone against his neighbor in a possible “shoot-out at the O.K. Corral” type of situation. In Horn’s case, the law gave him the incentive to kill and then looked the other way when reason should have dictated otherwise.

According to Jack Middleton, the co-chair of the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws, “We’ve heard nothing good about ‘Stand Your Ground Laws’” (Middleton, 2014). Mr. Middleton went on to say, “In fact, the more you look at them, the more problems you find” (2014). With the American Bar Association creating a task force to review and analyze the law, alarm bells should sound, signifying that there is definitely a necessity for lawmakers to at least consider repealing the law. Instead of giving law-abiding citizens their right to bear arms and protect their property, the law serves to advocate a mentality that is anti-social, hostile, wanton and excessive. Allowing individuals to shoot first and ask questions later proves to provide them with a sense of security that the law will shield them with a solid alibi for their actions. As quoted by another task force member, “Instead of encouraging peaceful resolution through the rule of law, stand-your-ground laws encourage violent actions” (Vince, n.d.).

When discussing the “Stand Your Ground Law” and what is considered justifiable force, one can turn to the Florida statute, which has laid the foundation for other states to follow suit:

“(1) A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.

(2) A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be (Title XLVI, Chapter 776, Justifiable Use of Force).”

This is essentially the same wording from state to state where Stand Your Ground laws have been passed. For example, in Alabama, the state law reads: “A person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself … and he or she may use a degree of force which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for the purpose” (Alabama Criminal Code, Section 13A-3-23). South Carolina’s Stand Your Ground law is similarly worded, stating that “there is no duty to retreat if (1) the person is in a place where he has a right to be, including the person’s place of business … ” and includes the provision that “authorizes the lawful use of deadly force under certain circumstances against an intruder or attacker in a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle” in which the person feels threatened (Protection of Persons and Property Act, 2006). Compared to the Duty to Retreat law, for example of New York, which reads that one “may not use deadly physical force if he or she knows that with complete personal safety, to oneself and others he or she may avoid the necessity of so doing by retreating” (New York State Law, Article 35 — NY Penal Law). The Duty to Retreat is clearly used to curtail violence and the law does not flagrantly set out to promote violent behavior, as compared to the southern states’ Stand Your Ground clauses.

The enactment of the Stand Your Ground law takes the criminality out of the event if the person defending himself was justified in doing so. Based as it is on the perception of the “person” who is justified in using force, the law creates a blurred, subjective realm in which perceptions can create realities, even if the reality contained absolutely no threat of violence to begin with. If the force used was reasonable and proportionate to the perceived threat, or was in response to an imminent threat, the necessity of self-defense outweighs the duty to retreat, according to the Stand Your Ground law. The problem is that it is describing a “perceived threat” and how one perceives a threat can be stretched to great lengths, as the case of Horn shows.

Thus, taking away the duty to retreat not only brings fear to communities, but also an increase in homicide rates. When compared to the statutes enforcing the Duty to Retreat laws, codified by New England area states among many others, the Stand Your Ground law looks particularly heinous. It is not surprising to find that its legislation was supported by the National Rifle Association in an act to encourage the weaponizing of American citizens (Lave, 2013).

The Stand Your Ground laws, as the Texas case of Joe Horn has shown, reveals that these laws reduce the burden of proof for the use of the deadly force too far, and other researchers have supported this argument noting that, in Florida, “70% of the cases where the Stand Your Ground law was invoked to avoid prosecution, individuals have gone free” (McClellan, Tekin, 2012, p. 8). In fact, there essentially is no need for any “burden of proof” as the law simply allows one to gauge the situation by his “feelings” — based on whether or not the individual even feels that an attack might be imminent, he or she is more or less justified in using deadly force. It is basically the Bush doctrine of the preemptive strike codified by states. Clearly defense attorneys in Florida are not having much difficulty helping their clients get away with what by any traditional standard or measure would be ruled as murder (McClellan, Tekin, 2012). However, some who shoot first and ask questions later may be surprised to find that the Stand Your Ground law is not a 100% guarantee (after all, what of those 30% for whom the defense did not work?). What’s worse is that the “ill-defined” and “inadequate provisions” for the Stand Your Ground defense actually lure citizens into a false sense of security, as they believe they are immune to prosecution for using deadly force to “protect” their person: the reality is that Stand Your Ground is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for anyone looking to settle scores (Campbell, 2014).

Self-Defense and the Criminal Background

In 2013, George Zimmerman, a Florida resident, was acquitted of murder charges after having been on trial for killing an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman invoked the “Stand Your Ground” self-defense and his legal team successfully pulled it off. According to Douglas Linder’s article, “The George Zimmerman Trial: An Account,” the events that led up to Trayvon Martin’s death and the trial that followed would be “one of the most intensely followed trials of the twenty-first century — a trial that provoked arguments about America’s gun culture and racial profiling” (Linder, 2014). It would also be the trial that would spark the debate of “murder versus justifiable use of force by a man fearing for his life” (Linder, 2014).

George Zimmerman, the “self-appointed protector of the streets around his home,” was the neighborhood watch leader of his neighborhood and had called the police more than 46 times over the span of eight years only to report “various sightings” (The Washington Post, 2012). Although in 2001, Zimmerman had been the victim of an assault, he was later accused of criminal misconduct or an act of violence on two separate occasions in 2005 (The Washington Post, 2012). Yet, Mr. Zimmerman was the owner of a concealed-weapons permit and a Kel-Tec semiautomatic handgun.

An Alabama woman was out walking her dog when she saw a man run by her home. She immediately went inside her home and retrieved her firearm. When she came back outside, the man (at least she believed him to be the same one she had seen earlier) was proceeding down her driveway towards her. The woman indicated she told the man to stop because she had a gun, but he didn’t stop coming towards her, at which time she shot and killed him. The Jefferson County District Attorney explained no charges were brought against the woman because “she had no duty to retreat, and it didn’t matter that she came voluntarily came outside with a gun” (Flatow, 2013). With the exception of finding out the man’s identity, Demetrius Antuan Thompson, there is very little known about the case. Aside from Thompson being the stepson of the woman’s ex-boyfriend, he had no criminal record and was not found to have been in possession of a weapon of any kind (Flatow, 2013).

According to Shoot First, Governor Bob Riley signed the “Stand Your Ground Law” into effect on April 4, 2006 in Alabama (September 2013). By doing so, he made it one of the most extensive laws in that Alabama allows for deadly force where ever an individual has a right to be (to include public spaces, playgrounds, roadways, driveways, sidewalks, etc.) (September, 2013). Additionally, Alabama’s “Stand Your Ground” law has the backing of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Rifle Association (NRA), and is one of twenty-one states that fail to impose a duty to retreat defense (Flatow, 2013). Interestingly enough, the Alabama statute also allows for immunity of the shooter, from all civil suits (to include ones that may be brought about from an innocent bystander (Shoot First, 2013).

The Opposing Side: Proponents of Stand Your Ground

In 2010, a Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) student, Lewis Moore (in other articles, identified as Ryan Moore), shot and killed a man, Yuhanna Williams, after what he claimed was a botched robbery attempt. According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, Moore was getting out of his car at a Conyers grocery store when he was approached by Williams. Williams pulled out a knife, placed it against Moore’s throat, and demanded money. Moore, in return, shot Williams in the face (Cook, 2012). When law enforcement arrived to the scene and interviewed Moore, he simply stated, “this guy tried to rob me and I shot him” (Cook, 2012). This is the type of incident that proponents of Stand Your Ground point to when they defend the law.

While Moore was a student at Georgia Tech, pursuing academic interests and most likely deemed a model citizen, Williams was a career criminal. From the onset of turning twenty-one years old, “he had been arrested numerous times … charges included simple battery, disorderly conduct, public indecency, DUI, violation of probation, and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute at a school” (Waters, 2010). Moore was exactly the type of citizen proponents laud when they argue how effective the law is in saving lives.

Proponents for “Stand Your Ground Law” will consistently ask, “How many times must a person retreat before they are allowed to “stand their ground?” And although it is a valid question, it is almost always answered with “never” if the question is posed in one of the states that have enacted the law. In the above-referenced instance, Moore had no duty to retreat and was able to successfully defend himself from what would be a career criminal. While most people would easily agree this situation resulted in a justifiable homicide, it can also be viewed as on in which Moore was lucky that the incident did not end worse than it did. When violence is introduced into a situation, things can badly quickly. And in states that have removed the “duty to retreat” standard, citizens have armed themselves with not only firearms, but the license to carry and/or conceal that firearm. It is as though society is no sitting in a pressure cooker. Is that what proponents of Stand Your Ground want — a society waiting to explode? Moore may have been justified in his use of deadly force, but how many people like Joe Horn will not be?

Endangerment in the Community

According to a Mayors Against Illegal Guns Analysis, between 2005 and 2007, states that enacted the law saw a 53% increase in the justifiable homicide rate in the years preceding passage of the enactment, noting the largest increases seen in Florida, Texas, Georgia, Arizona, and Kentucky (Shoot First, 2013). What’s more, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) data reports on justifiable homicides indicated that years after passing the law, the justifiable homicide rates in the states granting the passage, indicated a higher number of homicides committed by private citizens (Shoot First, 2013). On the contrary, states that failed to follow suit and enact this law saw a decrease in homicide rates.

One of the biggest concerns of the community as it pertains to endangerment is the disparity of racially impacted homicides. According to Shoot First, ” … analysis of demographic data shows that the increase in justifiable homicides has disproportionately affected the African-American population” (Shoot First, 2013). In response to the disparity, community members have taken to the streets and lawmakers, as recent as last month, to spark a new campaign associated with the homicides from “Stand Your Ground Laws” (as well as in police-custody shootings), claiming “Black Lives Matter.”


The infamous Trayvon Martin case opened the eyes of citizens for the need to repeal the “Stand Your Ground Laws.” Although the initial enactment seemed to be a good idea, numerous cases have shown that the law has not been clearly thought out (Campbell, 2014). Indeed, researchers have proven that the law has done more harm than good to the states that agree with this vigilante-type justice. If the statistics of the alarming increase in homicides rates in each state that has enacted the law does not open the eyes of citizens to awareness of the issues associated with the law, perhaps the new “wild west” mentality of their gun-toting aunt will. Homicide being deemed justified because someone chose to exercise their duty not to retreat is inexcusable, especially if there is an escape route well within their means. Senseless killing of unarmed individuals definitely qualifies for a need to take another look at the “Stand Your Ground Law” and the need for repealing it. At the very least, the clause should be clarified.


Alabama Criminal Code, Section 13A-3-23. Retrieved from http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/alcode/13A/3/2/13A-3-23

Campbell, R. C. (2014). Unlawful/Criminal Activity: The Ill-Defined and Inadequate Provision

for a “Stand Your Ground” Defense. Barry Law Review, 20(1): 3-21.

Cook, R. (2012). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. ‘Stand Your Ground Law’ in Effect in Georgia More Than 100 Years. Retrieved: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/stand-your-ground-law-in-effect-in-georgia-more-th/nQSgW/

Flatow, N. (2013). Think Progress.Org. Justice. With Stand Your Ground Laws Still Standing,

Two Alabama Shooters Escape Liability. Retrieved: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/05/30/2075961/with-stand-your-ground-laws-still-standing-two-alabama-shooters-escape-liability/

Florida Statute. (2014.) Justifiable Use of Force. Chapter 776

Lave, T. (2013). Shoot to Kill: A Critical Look at Stand Your Ground Laws. University of Miami Law Review, 67: 827-860.

Linder, D. (2014). Famous Trials. The George Zimmerman Trial: An Account. Retrieved:


McClellan, C., Tekin, E. (2012). Stand Your Ground Laws, Homicides, and Injuries. The National

Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 18187.

New Hampshire Criminal Code, Section 627:4. Retrieved from http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/LXII/627/627-4.htm

New York State Law, Article 35 — NY Penal Law. Retrieved from http://ypdcrime.com/penal.law/article35.htm

Protection of Persons and Property Act. (2006). South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Retrieved from http://www.sled.sc.gov/ProtectionOfPeople.aspx?MenuID=CWP

Purdie-Vaughns, V., Williams, D. (2015). Stand Your Ground is Losing Ground for Racial Minorities’

Health. Social Science and Medicine, 142: 194-201.

Rocio, E. (2014). Flip a Coin: Heads, Stand Your Ground is Good Law … Tails, Stand Your Ground is

Bad Law. Thurgood Marshall Law Reviw Online, 40(3).

Shoot First. (2013). Every Town For Gun Safety. Stan Your Ground Laws and Their Effect on Violent

Crime and the Criminal Justice System. Retrieved: http://everytownresearch.org/reports/shoot-first/

The Washington Post. (2012). In Trayvon Martin Shooting, Background of George Zimmerman

Can Confound, Confuse. Retrieved: http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/intrayvon-martin-shooting-background-of-george-zimmerman-can-confound/1221662

U.S. Law Shield. (n.d.) Florida Gun Law. Retrieved:


Waters, R. (2010.) Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem Blog. Georgia Tech Student Turns Tables

on Career Criminal. Another Self-Defense Shooting. Retrieved: http://kidnappingmurderandmayhem.blogspot.com/2010/12/georgia-tech-student-turns-tables-on.html

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