The Stand Your Ground law is not yet a reality in several states, where self-defense against an attacker today could make you the criminal. Under many current state laws, if you were to be intimidated, grabbed, or shoved around by a thug on the street, self-defense with any kind of object that could be defined as a deadly weapon (primarily guns and knives) could get you – the victim – charged with a crime for using too much force, instead of retreating.
In April 2005, the state of Florida was the first to pass a Stand Your Ground bill which allows a licensed gun owner over age 21, who feels threatened, to shoot the perpetrator in self-defense, without trying to first escape. Since then, other states have passed similar self-defense legislation.
In general the “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws allow people to defend themselves with deadly force, even in public places, when they perceive a life-threatening situation for themselves or others. Further, they would not be held accountable in criminal or civil court, even if bystanders were to be injured. While it already is legal in most cases to use deadly force against an attacker in your home, the new self-defense laws allow victims to retaliate against an attacker in public.
Arguments for and against Stand Your Ground self-defense legislation abound.
As concern about crime increases, supporters of these laws say they help shift the issue from gun control to crime control. Gene German, Lobbyist and Executive Director of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, has asserted his position that there’s a need for such laws in every state. He submitted letters to several newspapers expressing his belief that if a person is under attack on the street, they should be able to do everything possible to stop the attacker – even if that means pulling a knife or a gun or any other object of self-defense and using it against the unarmed thug. As some state laws are now, if this situation were to occur, the person defending him or herself could be charged because they used too much force. Police officers understand levels of threat and levels of force, but most ordinary citizens probably do not. Mr. German and many others believe the Stand Your Ground self-defense bills currently being proposed is some states would fix that.
Supporters of pending Stand Your Ground bills argue that passage would demonstrate legislators’ interest in making law-abiding citizens a top priority by empowering them to defend themselves and their families without fear of criminal prosecution or civil liability. In essence, passage of the bills will protect victims of crimes from being victimized a second time by civil lawsuits or criminal prosecutions.
David Kopel, Research Director of the Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado, has said that “these laws send a more general message to society that public spaces belong to the public – and the public will protect [public places] rather than trying to run into the bathroom of the nearest Starbucks and hope the police show up.”
Opponents of Stand Your Ground laws often refer to them as “Wild West” laws and argue that they are nothing more than vigilante justice promoted by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has said: “You don’t just broadly paint a new statewide law saying, if you’re in doubt, go ahead and shoot and kill the other person. It’s anathema to peace and calm in our communities.”
Others argue that the laws may actually promote gun violence and will be used to protect individuals whose actions should not be protected. For example, if a gang member is involved in a shoot-out, maybe even injuring or killing an innocent person, will the Stand Your Ground law apply and protect the gang member’s claim of self-defense?
Whether Stand Your Ground self-defense legislation becomes law in all 50 states is yet to be seen, but if it does, one concern will remain: will every day confrontations turn deadly and acts of violence become commonplace?