How Stand-Your-Ground Laws Hijacked Self-Defense
Guns and Contemporary Society: The Past, Present, and Future of Firearms and Firearm Policy, Vol. 3 (Glen Utter, ed.), 2016
43 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2016 Last revised: 16 Mar 2016
Date Written: January 5, 2016
In 2005 Florida passed the nation’s first so-called stand-your-ground law. By 2014 stand-your-ground laws had been passed in thirty-three states, transforming the legal landscape of self-defense. These laws significantly alter the historical understanding of justifiable force, ostensibly in order to clarify and strengthen the concept of justifiable self-defense and enhance public safety. The real accomplishment of these laws, however, has been to encourage the use of deadly force as a first, instead of a last, resort. Not only have these laws failed to deter crime, they have encouraged the escalation to deadly force in situations that do not call for it. Homicide rates increased in states with stand-your-ground laws after passing the legislation, and these states have higher homicide rates than states without stand-your-ground laws. The laws have encouraged the unnecessary use of deadly force on the part of those who have least reason to use it, and inhibited the use of deadly force by those most vulnerable to attack. These laws have undermined the limited protections victims of domestic violence have achieved after decades of reform efforts and worsened existing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Stand-your-ground laws do violence to the very concept of self-defense by conflating self-defense with gun use, encouraging vigilantism and violent escalation, and exploiting delusions of heroic prowess. True reform of the legal and social concept of self-defense should focus on clarifying when deadly force is truly necessary and reasonable. Such a reform effort should expand protections for women defending themselves against abusers, critically evaluate the disproportionate use of deadly force against unarmed minorities, and encourage training in and access to non-fatal methods of self-defense.
Keywords: criminal law, self-defense, Stand Your Ground, domestic violence, racism, sexism, homicide, gun laws, NRA, National Rifle Association, Florida, vigilantism
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