There are many misunderstandings in the media and public perception about the laws in the United States that govern the use of lethal force in self-defense. Perhaps the most prevalent misunderstandings revolve around the Stand Your Ground Law principle, referred to hereafter as SYG for brevity.
Clearing Up Stand Your Ground
One needs only type those three words into a search engine to see how many people are ignorant of it. Not to mention, how many deliberately twist its meaning to serve political agendas.
Anti-gun Giffords Law Center says SYG, “Distorts the law of self-defense… exacerbates systemic racism and gender bias…and elevates homicide rates.”
However, from this writer’s perspective, it can only “elevate the number of homicides” of criminals killed by their intended victims in self-defense.
“Exacerbates systemic racism”? In 2013, the anti-gun magazine The Atlantic admitted that some 31 percent of exonerated Floridians in so-called SYG hearings (more on that soon) were black. While according to the Census Bureau, only 16.9 percent of Florida residents are African-American.
The reality appears to be that SYG has helped black Americans proportionally more than it has helped others.
Source Of Confusion
SYG first came to national attention early in the 21st Century. It was then the state of Florida passed a legislative package that encompassed four different self-defense-related concepts.
In no particular order, one element eliminated the requirement to retreat from a deadly attacker if the defender was in a place where he had to be, and was not committing a crime. It reinforced the Castle Doctrine principle, to wit, one’s home is one’s castle and attacked there they need not retreat.
Another statute was a tort reform element that said if the criminal justice system determined the act to be justifiable self-defense, any resulting lawsuit had to be dismissed.
Finally, one element provided for a pre-trial hearing, essentially a mini-bench trial, in which a judge could dismiss any criminal charges against the defender arising from the incident.
Now, it’s pretty hard to give one legislative package four names. This series became known as the Stand Your Ground Law. Because of the one element many saw as the most tactically important, the rescinding of the retreat requirement. To be semantically correct, Stand Your Ground applies only to the rescinding of the retreat requirement. Period.
Points of Clarification
Two points are important to note here. One is that according to attorney Andrew Branca (lawofselfdefense.com), a specialist lawyer in this area, only a minority of states currently have a retreat requirement on the books at this time.
Another, perhaps more important point is that in every state that has ever had a retreat requirement, retreat was only demanded if it could be accomplished in complete safety to oneself and other innocent parties.
I teach armed self-defense as my primary job (massadayoobgroup.com). For many years I have asked my students, “If you could retreat in complete safety to yourself and others, would you use deadly force?”
Not surprisingly, no one ever answers, “Yes.”
“Get Out of Jail Free” Card—Not!
Critics call SYG a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Reality says otherwise. In 2015, the Jacksonville, Florida, Times-Union said, “Records show that since the Stand Your Ground law was implemented, there have been 64 cases filed in Duval County in which defendants charged with felonies claimed self-defense and requested a Stand Your Ground hearing. Of those hearings, judges granted dismissals in just four.”
I promised you 66 cases to discuss. Let’s call the ones surveyed by that newspaper Case 1 through Case 64. Now, let’s get down to specifics in the short space I have here.
In what I’ll call Case 65, State of Florida v. George Zimmerman, anti-gunners made the defendant a target for everything they thought was wrong with SYG. There’s one problem there though: The killing of Trayvon Martin that night had nothing to do with SYG.
True Stand Your Ground kicks in only if you could have safely escaped from your attacker and didn’t try. When Zimmerman fired the fatal shot, he was on the ground with Martin on top of him, bashing Zimmerman’s head into the concrete.
The forensic evidence clearly shows it, leading to his acquittal. I never thought this fit the SYG model.
I know George Zimmerman and have discussed the case with his attorneys, Mark O’Mara and Don West. They don’t think it was a Stand Your Ground issue either—nor does the defendant himself. When he fired, retreat was impossible. Instead of the proverbial “back to the wall,” his back was on the ground when he triggered the single 115-grain Sellier & Bellot 9mm hollow point.
The higher courts have ruled out the statute that said judges must dismiss a civil lawsuit arising from a shooting determined to be justified self-defense by the criminal justice system, but judges still can do so, and have.
Let’s close with Case 66in Florida. Attorney Jeffrey Weiner in Miami retained me for the criminal defense of this case. An adolescent boy used his father’s Mossberg Persuader 12-gauge shotgun to shoot and kill a thief who was coming at him and his mother on the family property.
The state’s attorney dismissed the case, ending my involvement. However, there was still a resulting massive lawsuit. The so-called Stand Your Ground hearing was held, and his civil court defenders, Peter Murphy and Bill Bissett, convinced the judge to dismiss the case, saving the family a trial ordeal and probably six figures in legal fees.
The bottom line? No “get out of jail free” cards. No “blood in the streets.”
Just innocent people saving their own lives and others without the torture of trial, bankruptcy, and prison.
Stand Your Ground is a good thing.
This article was originally published in the Combat Handguns March/April 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email [email protected]