What Is Stand Your Ground?

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What is “stand your ground?” “Stand your ground” laws are self-defense laws that allow citizens to use deadly force without first being required to flee dangerous situations. “Stand your ground” laws became a topic of national debate after the Feb. 26, 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin.

In that case, George Zimmerman used “stand your ground” to justify killing Martin, a 17-year-old black high school student seen walking in a hoodie in a Florida gated community. Florida is one of more than states, according to the Washington Post, that apply the “castle doctrine”—which enables people to defend themselves in their homes without first needing to flee invaders—to public places, opening the door to justified “stand your ground” self-defense killings.

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What is Florida’s “stand your ground” law? The “stand your ground” law passed in Florida in 2005, when the state Senate unanimously approved the measure (39-0) and the House voted overwhelmingly (94-20) in favor of extending the “castle doctrine” to places beyond the home. “Stand your ground” was signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush, and perhaps not surprisingly, its passage followed intense lobbying by the proponents the National Rifle Association.

Do “stand your ground” laws work? Proponents and opponents of “stand your ground” laws use data to back their claims, and while evidence suggests it leads to more justifiable killings—the number has tripled in Florida—Dennis Baxley, a Republican state representative from Florida, praised the law in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, claiming it had led to a major drop in violent crime since its passage in 2005. In a 2012 Texas A&M study, an economics professor and PhD student determined that “stand your ground” laws do not actually deter crime. “Specifically, we find no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault,” the paper reads. “Moreover, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out meaningful deterrence effects.”

Is “stand your ground” effective? The debate promises to rage on, and following the Zimmerman verdict, some states have sought to repeal their “stand your ground” self-defense measures. An initiative failed in New Hampshire, and one thing is for certain: Anti-“castle doctrine” crusaders will need to stand their ground if they’re to overturn these laws.

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