You’ve probably heard news reports about “stand your ground” (SYG) laws, particularly in Florida. In the wake of several high profile shootings these laws are under scrutiny. Should they be?
“Stand Your Ground” laws became a source of debate all over the country after the George Zimmerman case, and the recent Michael Dunn “loud music” shooting has intensified calls to modify or repeal the Florida statute. Activists in other states who have similar laws are also calling for revamping their local regulations.
The usual complaint is that SYG laws somehow allow people to shoot others in self-defense when they wouldn’t be allowed to do so without those laws. Editorials are lambasting SYG as a “license to kill”.
That is entirely untrue and a blatant attempt to steer the discussion to an inappropriate conclusion.
SYG laws simply say that if you have a right to be in a place, you are under no legal obligation to leave if you’re faced with a threat. That’s it. You can certainly choose to leave (and you probably should if you can do so in complete safety), but SYG laws remove a mandate that you do so.
What’s important to know is that SYG laws do not affect the circumstances under which you may use lethal force, nor do they excuse its use where it’s not warranted!
Regardless of any SYG laws in place, should you employ lethal force you’ll still be judged by whether that force was appropriate to the threat you faced. Did your attacker have the ability to kill or cripple you? Was he in a position to employ that ability, and was he acting in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to believe that he intended to do so at that moment? That’s the standard against which you’ll be tried, and that’s true regardless of whether you had a legal duty to retreat (or not.)
If you weren’t justified in your use of force, the stand your ground provision doesn’t magically make you justified. Your use of force has to be within the bounds of the law as codified in statute and clarified by court decision, and that doesn’t change.
Regardless of what the uninformed news media might say, a SYG law doesn’t give you special privileges; it doesn’t remove the legal litmus test of the use of lethal force; it doesn’t make lethal force any easier to justify; and it doesn’t give anyone a ‘hunting license’ for other human beings. SYG simply says you have a right to be where you’re standing, and you don’t give up that right just because someone else wants to harm you.
Once you understand the legalities of the use of lethal force it’s a lot easier to understand why stand your ground laws are both important to your safety and irrelevant when determining your justification for the use of that force. The best place I know to get the education you need in this critical area is Massad Ayoob’s essential course on the use of lethal force, MAG-20, which he teaches around the country.
-=[ Grant ]=-
- Posted by Grant Cunningham
- On February 26, 2014