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What are “Stand Your Ground Laws?”

Under the guise of self-defense, “Stand Your Ground” laws legally allow a person to use a firearm to shoot and kill another person anywhere, at any time.

Stand Your Ground laws have fundamentally dismantled the standards of self-defense. They allow anyone who believes their life to be in danger to use lethal force in an act of self-defense, completely removing the duty to retreat in a public space.

But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, Stand Your Ground laws are relatively new, upending centuries of self-defense law and interpretation in the courts. Before the first Stand Your Ground law passed in Florida in 2005, it was an individual’s responsibility to attempt to retreat from confrontation before responding with lethal means, like a firearm. However, following heavy influence led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), Florida’s Stand Your Ground law passed and now allows a person to use firearms as a solution — even if that means shooting and killing a person in public.

In many cases, Stand Your Ground laws even protect individuals who pursue what they perceive as a “threat.” At the crux of these “shoot first” laws lies the belief that lethal force should be used on first instinct, instead of saving it as a last resort. This system relies on a “shoot first, ask questions later” model that can quickly turn a simple misunderstanding into a permanent tragedy.

Stand Your Ground laws are made more lethal by our nation’s history of racism, are reinforced by our nation’s weak gun laws, and are galvanized by outside influence by gun rights groups like the NRA.

This deadly combination serves to embolden vigilantes under a misguided interpretation of the Second Amendment while threatening all Americans’ public safety and their most important right: the right to live.

Stand Your Ground Laws Disproportionately Harm Black Lives and Perpetuate Racism in America

Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery are tragically not the first — or the last — Black men unjustly killed in America.

Stand Your Ground laws exist within a broader context of systemic racism and racial injustice that has resulted in the death, injury, and dehumanization of Black people from the beginning of our nation’s history.

Stand Your Ground laws perpetuate the decades-long brutalization of Black lives while protecting and promoting unjust and unwarranted violence in America. The deep systemic and institutional racism that results in disproportionate rates of shootings and homicides in communities of color are dramatically worsened by Stand Your Ground laws, which are applied “unpredictabl[y] and uneven[ly] and result in racial disparities:

    • Research shows that in instances where a Black victim is murdered by a white shooter, that shooting is more likely to be deemed justified.
    • The odds of a white person killing a Black person and it being deemed justified is 281% greater than a white person killing another white person.
    • By contrast, when a Black person kills a white person, there is barely half the odds of the homicide being ruled justifiable relative to when a white person kills another white person.
    • No matter the race of the perpetrator, they were two times more likely to be convicted in a case involving white victims than people of color.

These statistics show how the race of both the perpetrator and the victim are directly tied to the outcome of the case, and whether the shooting is deemed “justified.” And this is exactly what the gun lobby wanted.

"Stand Your Ground laws encourage reckless gun owners to kill first, ask questions later, and claim self-defense to avoid being held criminally responsible for taking the life of another individual."

Kelly Sampson, Counsel, Constitutional Litigation, Legal Alliance and Racial Justice at Brady

Stand Your Ground laws were championed by gun rights extremists under the guise of protection, while communities of color have suffered a traumatic history of racially-motivated shootings. They encourage reckless gun owners to kill first, ask questions later, and claim self-defense to avoid being held criminally responsible for taking the life of another individual. To no one’s surprise, these laws have perpetuated the victimization of communities of color while white Americans are provided a legal defense for murder — essentially a get out of jail for free card.

Stand Your Ground Laws Combined with Weak Gun Laws: A Threat to Public Safety

Beginning in 2005, Florida was the first state to implement a Stand Your Ground law. Florida’s law became the national model for other states to follow after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) adopted it. Influence from the NRA and ALEC drew widespread support among other states, and today, at least 24 states have passed some form of Stand Your Ground laws.

As crafted by the NRA, Stand Your Ground Laws bolster the gun lobby myth that more guns increase public safety and reduce crime. We know that this is not further from the truth:

Our nation’s weak gun laws paired with Stand Your Ground laws further the threat to public safety. Concealed carry laws allow an individual to carry a gun in public places but a patchwork of state laws means that many individuals are carrying loaded, lethal weapons without training, education, or even a background check. This is a direct threat to the public at large: An analysis from the Violence Policy Center found that 1,371 people have been killed by concealed carry holders since May 2007.

Trayvon Martin is just one of the many lives unjustly killed due to Stand Your Ground laws. Florida’s concealed carry law granted his murderer access to legally possess a gun in public. He then used his concealed weapon to shoot and kill Martin, a Black teen walking home from a convenience store. The Miami Herald quoted a juror in Trayvon’s case saying that the jury found his murderer not guilty, “based on the evidence and ‘because of the heat of the moment and…Stand Your Ground.”

This deadly combination — Stand Your Ground Laws and our nation’s weak guns — serves as a license to kill first and ask questions later, and our public safety pays the price.

Listen to our Podcast About Stand Your Ground Laws

Hear from Brady about these laws, how they’ve developed, and how they've been used against people of color.

Our Right to Live is Undermined by Stand Your Ground Laws

Imagine if your state legislature passed a law saying that any person who feels threatened by another person may use lethal force to execute the perceived threat. Then say that, as a matter of state policy, residents should presume that Black people are more threatening than White people.

This sounds absurd, but this is basically a Stand Your Ground law in a nutshell.

These laws pervert “self-defense” and make it “self-offense." Our country’s weak gun laws and prolific civilian firearm carrying mean Stand Your Ground laws increase, rather than decrease, gun crime. This, alone, is an unacceptable attack on everyone’s right to live. And when combined with deeply-rooted, racist conceptions of white innocence and black criminality, as well as courts’ unequal applications, Stand Your Ground laws particularly devalue Black lives.

With rights come responsibilities. The right to keep and bear arms is not a free for all; it does not encompass a right to trigger-happy vigilantism devoid of reason or proportionality. Stand Your Ground laws are an affront to our right not to be shot and we must stand our ground against them.

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