President Obama and Attorney General Holder have recently called for an examination of state stand-your-ground laws in reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Not only is this a vast overreach by federal officials into an area of law that has historically been left to the states, it shows the Obama administration’s eagerness to capitalize on any opportunity to pursue its anti-gun, anti-self-defense agenda.
What the president and attorney general fail to realize is that there has already been an examination of self-defense laws in state legislatures and courts across the country. Simply put, the majority have concluded that stand-your-ground is good public policy, because it fully protects Americans’ fundamental right to self-defense.
Unsatisfied with the call for examination of stand-your-ground by the president and attorney general, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) recently reintroduced H.R. 2812, the “Justice Exists for All of Us Act of 2013.” H.R. 2812 would make deep cuts in federal criminal justice grants to any state that does not repeal its stand-your-ground law. Rep. Jackson Lee does not seem to be bothered that H.R. 2812 would be most detrimental to her law-abiding constituents, while giving violent criminals in her district the upper hand. Texas, like the majority of other states, has a stand-your-ground law.
In today’s debate about stand-your-ground, a significant amount of misinformation has been circulated concerning the history of the doctrine and what the actual difference is between a state with it and one without it. The claim that stand-your-ground began in Florida in 2005 as a recent departure from “traditional” self-defense rules is false. Stand-your-ground has its roots in the 19th century, when American courts rejected the English retreat requirement in favor of a rule that treated the defender as a citizen with inalienable rights, not as an expendable subject of the crown.
Stand-your-ground, otherwise known as no-duty-to-retreat, does not, as many have claimed, expand the places in which a person can use deadly force in self-defense. It simply allows a person who reasonably believes that an attacker presents a threat of serious injury or death to use deadly force to stop the attack without first trying to run away. Yet even in a state that requires retreat, a person may use deadly force in self-defense anywhere the person is legally present when retreat is not physically possible.
To understand the importance of stand-your-ground, consider a woman who, through no fault of her own, is attacked in a public place, reasonably determines the attacker means to kill her, and responds with her lawfully-carried .38 Special. In a state that requires retreat, she, the victim of the initial attack, could still be convicted for not attempting to retreat. In that instance, the jury, deliberating with the benefit of hindsight after the fact, would simply need to decide that the woman, who was forced to make her split-second decision while facing a violent attack, could have done more to flee the scene.
In an especially revealing example of how little some understand the right to self-defense, Mark Glaze, executive director of Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, argued that firearms should only be used in self-defense against an attacker armed with a firearm. In an appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball, Glaze told host Chris Matthews that someone confronted by an attacker wielding an ax handle should “talk” or “fight with their fists.” When Matthews asked, “How do you talk to a guy with an ax handle?” Glaze replied, “You fight him. You run away. You deescalate the situation.”
Glaze apparently doesn’t realize, or care, that some people are physically incapable of running away or fighting with their fists. He also apparently doesn’t realize, or care, that requiring innocent victims to fight attackers with their fists or attempting to run away exposes them to increased danger. He clearly can’t see past his anti-gun agenda to understand that firearms serve a vital role in protecting those who have no other viable means of fighting back.
States that have enacted stand-your-ground laws give victims of unlawful violence a fighting chance, both at the scene of the attack and in the courtroom. Criminals have less to lose by attempting a violent assault in a duty-to-retreat state, since the law requires victims to submit, or run away, or face possible criminal conviction. In a stand-your-ground state, however, criminals must consider the possibility that victims are willing and able to defend themselves on the spot.
The effect of stand-your-ground laws is to make an already dangerous situation less dangerous for the innocent victim and more dangerous for the criminal. In short, they give law-abiding citizens a critical advantage against predatory criminals. And that’s why the NRA will continue to support the passage of stand-your-ground laws in states across the country.