A “stand your ground” law states that a person may use deadly force in self-defense without the duty to retreat when faced with a reasonable perceived threat. The laws expand on the “Castle doctrine,” which says that a person is protected under the law to use deadly force in self-defense when his or her property or home is being invaded. More than half of the states in the country have some form of “Castle doctrine” or “stand your ground” law on the books.
Controversy surrounding “stand your ground” laws reached a boil with the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida in late February. Although all of the facts of the case have not been made public, what is known is that George Zimmerman, an armed neighborhood watch patrolman, shot and killed the unarmed Martin after pursuing him. Although Zimmerman apparently perceived Martin as a threat, at the time of his death Martin had no weapon but was instead carrying a bag of Skittles candy and an iced tea. Still, new reports suggest that Martin and Zimmerman may have been involved in a scuffle before Zimmerman shot Martin.
Zimmerman claimed he killed Martin in self-defense, and under Florida’s “stand your ground” law he was not arrested on the night of Martin’s death.
Since then, a massive public outcry demanding Martin’s arrest and numerous rallies across the country have put “stand your ground” laws in the crosshairs of public scrutiny. Proponents of “stand your ground” laws argue that bad people are armed and that good people need to be able to use deadly force if necessary to defend themselves. Opponents of the laws claim that they give too much freedom to use such force, making the laws a license to kill rather than a protective measure.
Are “stand your ground” laws a good idea? Here’s the Debate Club’s take:
Michael Zalewski Member of the Illinois House of Representatives
Dan Gross President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
Larry Pratt Executive Director of Gun Owners of America