Standing One’s Ground

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What Does It Mean to “Stand Your Ground”?

By Rick Hart – NRA Certified Instructor


This week several jurisdictions began revisiting so-call “Stand Your Ground” statutes and whether or not they enhance public safety. This recent push by anti-gun activists comes on the heels of the now famous Sanford, Florida case in which a Neighborhood Watch captain was acquitted of murder charges by reason of self-defense. Ironically, this case had nothing to do with “Stand Your Ground” and was not tried on that basis, nor was it an element of the defense’s case. Media attention, however, made it seem that “Stand Your Ground” laws were tantamount to a “License to Kill” and the reason the defendant was acquitted. Simply not true.

First of all, let’s set the record straight. There is no such thing as a “Stand Your Ground” law. Let me explain. Dating all the way back to English Common Law, a person was justified in using deadly force when faced with imminent threat of death or great bodily harm (maiming or crippling injury) from an assailant(s) who had the ability, the opportunity and the intent to cause such harm right there, right then. This justification extends to the use of force to protect the innocent for whom you are responsible, such as family members, others under your care, etc. All 50 states have laws which permit the use of deadly force in these situations. In this regard, nothing has substantially changed in hundreds of years, or longer.

While the use of deadly force in self defense has been a long time human right, this did not stop some over zealous prosecutors from pursuing charges (and in some cases winning guilty verdicts) against innocent people who were doing nothing more than protecting themselves or their loved ones. The line of reasoning would go something like this: “Yes, I understand the man was a maniac, and yes I agree that he was trying to kill you. I even concur that the had the means – perhaps a tire iron – and the opportunity (seeing that he was standing over you) with it raised in the air and about to cave in your skull. But, did you try any other options before shooting him? Did you try talking to him? Did you try to warn him that you would call the police? Did you cry out for help? Did you try to run away or escape? If you did not exhaust all other options prior to shooting, then you don’t really know if one of them would have worked or not – do you? Perhaps you just wanted to shoot him!”

What “Stand Your Ground” really does is recognize that it is insane – and ill advised – in the face of a deadly threat to pause, reflect on your options, and try any number of alternatives prior to resorting to deadly force. Even the Supreme Court of the United States recognized this in BROWN v. UNITED STATES, 256 U.S. 335 (1921) where Justice Holmes rendered the following opinion in a 7-2 vote:


“…Many respectable writers agree that if a man reasonably believes that he is in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily harm from his assailant he may stand his ground and that if he kills him he has not succeeded the bounds of lawful self defence. That has been the decision of this Court. Beard v. United States, 158 U.S. 550, 559 , 15 S. Sup. Ct. 962. Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife. Therefore in this Court, at least, it is not a condition of immunity that one in that situation should pause to consider whether a reasonable man might not think it possible to fly with safety or to disable his assailant rather than to kill him Rowe v. United States, 164 U.S. 546, 558 , 17 S. Sup. Ct. 172…”


It will be interesting to see where this “proposed legislation” will go, if anywhere, seeing that it has already been ruled on by the SCOTUS almost 100 years ago. Nevertheless, politicians do try to make a name for themselves, don’t they?


Stay Safe,


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