I could have sworn I had written about my concerns about the Stand Your Ground laws after Florida passed it, long before the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Can’t find it. So I’ll cheat, and expand on this document from the government of the state of Connecticut.
The Castle Doctrine and “stand-your-ground” laws are affirmative defenses for individuals charged with criminal homicide. The Castle Doctrine is a common law doctrine [going back to English common law] stating that an individual has no duty to retreat when in his or her home, or “castle,” and may use reasonable force, including deadly force, to defend his or her property, person, or another. [There was a case a few years ago where some drunk guy wandered into someone’s home in western New York at 1 a.m. The intruder was shot and killed, and no charges were filled.] Outside of the “castle,” however, an individual has a duty to retreat, if able to do so, before using reasonable force.
Stand-your-ground laws, by comparison, remove the common law requirement to retreat outside of one’s “castle,” allowing an individual to use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat. [Note this important distinction; one does not have to walk away from the conflict.] Deadly force is reasonable under stand-your-ground laws in certain circumstances, such as imminent great bodily harm or death.
Forty-six states… have incorporated the Castle Doctrine into law. Connecticut law justifies the use of reasonable physical force, including deadly force, in defense of premises. Connecticut courts have recognized the common law privilege to challenge an unlawful entry into one’s home, to the extent that a person’s conduct does not rise to the level of a crime. Deadly force is justified in defense of one’s property by a person who is privileged to be on the premises and who reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent an attempt by the criminal trespasser to commit any crime of violence.
Twenty states have stand-your-ground laws. Generally, these laws allow an individual to use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first if the individual (1) has a legal right to be at the location and (2) is not engaged in an unlawful activity. Connecticut does not have a stand-your-ground law. Connecticut law specifically requires an individual to retreat, if able to do so, before using reasonable force.
The idea that one should be able to defend oneself, or another, in case of a reasonable threat is always true. The question in Stand Your Ground is how much effort one needs to use to try to extract oneself from the situation.
My concern is not people with guns, but rather short-tempered people with guns who take advantage of the notion of a perceived threat. At the absurdist end of the spectrum, I’m thinking of that Tennessee woman who shot at a car full of kids for turning in her driveway; fortunately, no one was hurt.
Is there a racial component in the perception of a “reasonable threat”? [Research John Roman] “found that Stand Your Ground laws tend to track the existing racial disparities in homicide convictions across the U.S. — with one significant exception: Whites who kill blacks in Stand Your Ground states are far more likely to be found justified in their killings.”
I’m uncomfortable with Stand Your Ground because I believe it has led to avoidable deaths, and will continue to do so.