The conventional wisdom among those in the mainstream media is that Stand Your Ground laws lead to violent encounters and are unnecessary. Many assume that “Stand Your Ground” is a new concept in the law- it most certainly is not. Even though laws specifically codifying the concept are new, the idea has been grounded in English common law (and therefore American common law) for centuries. Even progressive states such as California and Maine have some form of codified Stand Your Ground. Stand Your Ground laws were meant to restate and protect the right of common law self-defense. The idea that we have the right to defend our most basic right- the right to our lives – is not a new idea.
Prosecutors in many self defense cases were arguing that the accused could have retreated (or that if they did retreat, that they could have retreated even further.) Legislators wanted to give specific protection within the law for the right to defend yourself without the need to run from a lawfully occupied space. This does not mean that a person should not retreat- a reasonable person knows that if retreat is possible, they should retreat. The intent was to protect a person from being second guessed in a sterile courtroom by aggressive prosecutors. There are still overwhelming incentives for a person to use great discretion and avoid violent self defense. Even if found “not guilty,” the person who kills or maims in self defense risks severe civil and social penalties. In many self defense schools and books, the concept is: “if it is not worth dying for- it is not worth killing for.”
The Stand Your Ground laws also do not change any of the underlying requirements accepted for lawful self defense. We still have a duty to be innocent, reasonable, and proportional in our defense of self. The law does not protect someone who instigates a confrontation, nor does it protect someone who did not have a reasonable fear of death or grave bodily injury.
In the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal, the professional grievance industry has seized on Stand Your Ground and argued that the law is racially biased and hurts minorities- nothing could be further from the truth. John Lott has delved into the Tampa Bay Time database of Stand Your Ground defense cases and found several striking facts. Blacks are 16.6% of the Florida population, but they account for 31% of the Stand Your Ground defense cases. When black defendants are compared to white defendants, they are acquitted 8 percent more frequently. Unfortunately, more blacks are victims of violent crimes, so it makes sense that they would use the defense more often.
Lott has also looked at states that have passed Stand Your Ground and similar Castle Doctrine laws; and he found that murder rates dropped by 9%, and overall violent crime by 11% - even after accounting for a range of other variables. Other researchers have disagreed with Lott’s conclusions, and it is always hard to isolate one variable. If we look at Florida, where the most controversy lies, we can make some very clear assertions. Florida has made it easier to carry a gun and broadened the ability of justifiable self defense through Stand Your Ground. Violent crime has plummeted in Florida since 1992, from 1200 per 100,000 to 492 per 100,000. In fact, the two greatest year-over-year percentage drops, 2010 and 2009, have been after Stand Your Ground was passed in 2005 (and after the great recession began.) Criminals in Florida are aware that many Floridians can now lawfully carry a gun and defend themselves, and this does have an affect.
Most of us have no desire to be in a violent confrontation. You can never leave a violent encounter with more than what was brought in. The best you can hope for is to keep your health and life. Society is very hard on those who use violent force, even when justifiable. The law has a duty to protect individual rights, and above all those rights is the right to life. Stand Your Ground laws protect all of us from wrongful prosecution and punishment.