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Don’t Retreat on 'Stand Your Ground' Laws

October 29, 2013 in Economics

By Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

Having kicked the debt-ceiling can down the road, Congress is back to grandstanding over the non-economic issues that occupied its time before it was reminded that it hadn’t passed a budget in nearly five years. One of those bizarre discursions is the crusade against Stand Your Ground (“SYG”) laws, which have been blamed for every recent shooting death, most notably that of Trayvon Martin.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by chairman Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), is holding a subcommittee hearing to discuss the issue, while SYG laws remain a tremendously misunderstood part of the debate over criminal-justice reform. Notwithstanding recent efforts to politicize the issue, there’s nothing particularly novel, partisan, or ideological about these laws. All they do is allow people to assert their right to self-defense in certain circumstances without having a “duty to retreat.” The SYG principle has been enshrined in the law of a majority of states — currently more than 30 — for over 150 years.

Notwithstanding recent efforts to politicize the issue, there’s nothing particularly novel, partisan, or ideological about these laws.”

Of the 15 states that have enacted SYG since 2005, a majority were signed by Democratic governors, including Jennifer Granholm, Janet Napolitano, and Kathleen Sebelius. Louisiana and West Virginia passed them with Democratic control of both state houses. Florida’s supposedly controversial law passed the state senate unanimously and split Democrats in the state house. When Illinois strengthened its longstanding SYG law in 2004, state senator Barack Obama joined in unanimous approval. Even in more restrictive states, courts have held that retreat isn’t required at home or when preventing a serious crime.

Indeed, it’s a universal principle that a person can use force when she reasonably believes it’s necessary to defend against an imminent use of unlawful force. Where there’s no duty to retreat, she’s further justified in using deadly force if she reasonably believes it necessary to prevent death, great bodily harm, or a forcible felony like rape.

It’s not an easy defense to assert, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can shoot first and ask questions later. These laws aren’t a license to be a vigilante. They just protect law-abiding citizens from having to leave a place where they’re allowed to be.

That’s why this debate isn’t new. In ancient Britain, when the deadliest weapons were swords, a duty to retreat greatly reduced blood feuds. British law reflects a “deference to the constabulary,” …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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