“Stand your ground” laws allow a person to use deadly force in self-defense in public, even if that force can be safely avoided by retreating. As a result, these laws encourage the escalation of violence in everyday conflicts. Nevertheless, more than half of US states have now adopted “stand your ground” policies—ignoring centuries of legal precedent and a growing body of research showing these laws significantly increase gun homicides and injuries.

Background

Conventional self-defense law allows people to use self-defense to protect themselves and others but also recognizes the responsibility to avoid causing bodily harm or death if doing so can be safely avoided. Stand your ground laws upended centuries of legal tradition, embolding individuals to use deadly force even when a safe retreat from the situation is possible or when nonlethal force would suffice. As such, these laws allow individuals to use lethal force as a first step, rather than as a last resort.

As the first state to implement a stand your ground law, Florida has been an important test case regarding the public health and safety implications of this law. Multiple studies show that Florida’s stand your ground law escalated violence across the state.

  • The implementation of Florida’s stand your ground law was associated with a 32% increase in firearm homicide rates and a 24% increase in overall homicide rates.1
  • Importantly, researchers found that Florida’s stand your ground law increased both justifiable and unlawful homicide rates.2
  • The state’s stand your ground law had the largest negative impact on neighborhoods that initially had the lowest homicide rates before the law was enacted.3
  • In 79% of Florida Stand Your Ground cases, the assailant could have retreated to avoid the confrontation, and in 68% of cases, the person killed was unarmed.4

As stand your ground laws spread from Florida across the country, they have proven to be a clear threat to public safety, with no evidence that these laws deter crime.5 In fact, studies have conclusively associated these laws with increases in homicides and injuries.

  • In any given month, approximately 30 to 50 people across the country are killed as a result of stand your ground laws.6
  • Stand your ground laws are associated with an 8% increase in firearm homicides.7
  • Stand your ground laws were also associated with significant increases in firearm injuries resulting in emergency room visits and inpatient hospitalizations.8

Stand your ground laws also have a profound impact on the criminal and civil justice systems, tying the hands of law enforcement and depriving victims of remedies by providing blanket immunity from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits to individuals who claim they were acting in self-defense. In many cases, the race of the attacker and victim are highly significant factors in whether an attack is determined to be justified.

  • Controlling for other factors, the odds a white-on-black homicide is found justified is 281% greater than the odds a white-on-white homicide is found justified.9
  • An analysis of Florida stand your ground cases similarly found that a defendant is twice as likely to be convicted in a case that involves white victims compared to those involving non-white victims.10

Summary of Federal Law

There are no federal Stand Your Ground laws. This is a policy addressed solely by state laws, judicial decisions, jury instructions, or a combination of all three.

Summary of State Law

A Majority of States Now Have “Shoot First” Laws

Florida’s shoot first law was promoted by the National Rifle Association, and was adopted by the state legislature despite widespread opposition in 2005. Efforts to advance shoot first laws nationwide accelerated later that year, when the conservative, corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) adopted a model law bearing many similarities to Florida’s law. The ALEC model was developed in conjunction with the NRA, which has funded ALEC for years and, until 2011, co-chaired the council’s Public Safety and Elections task force that developed the model shoot first law.

Since 2005, a majority of states have adopted either part or all of the ALEC model law. After widespread outcry and the loss of a number of major corporate sponsors following the death of Trayvon Martin, ALEC announced in 2012 that it was disbanding the Public Safety and Elections task force. The NRA, however, shows no signs of ceasing its efforts to convince states to adopt dangerous, expansive shoot first laws nationwide.

States with Shoot First Statutes

Alabama11
Alaska12
Arizona13
Florida14
Georgia15
Indiana16
Idaho17
Iowa18
Kansas19
Kentucky20
Louisiana21
Michigan22
Mississippi23
Missouri24
Montana25
Nevada26
New Hampshire27
North Carolina28
North Dakota†29
Ohio*30
Oklahoma31
Pennsylvania32
South Carolina33
South Dakota34
Tennessee35
Texas36
Utah37
West Virginia38
Wisconsin*39
Wyoming40

 

† In North Dakota, the statute only applies when the shooter is in an occupied motor home or travel trailer which is defined as a vehicle that provides temporary living quarters.
* In these states, the statute only applies when the shooter is in a vehicle.

Six additional states—California, Illinois41, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington—permit the use of deadly force in self-defense in public with no duty to retreat through a combination of statutes, judicial decisions, and/or jury instructions. These states are distinct from true “Florida-style” laws in several respects, however. For one, many of the shoot first protections established in these states may only be invoked during criminal trials, as opposed to the Florida law and the ALEC model, which enable a shooter to escape liability in a pretrial hearing. Additionally, these states do not have some of the especially onerous elements found in the Florida law, such as the provision preventing law enforcement from arresting a shooter without probable cause that the force used was unlawful.

Several States Have Considered Adopting or Repealing “Shoot First” Legislation

Increased public awareness about shoot first laws following the Trayvon Martin shooting led legislators in some states to consider repealing either part or all of their shoot first laws. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the leaders of a number of national African-American organizations launched “Second Chance on Shoot First,” a national grassroots coalition seeking the repeal or reform of shoot first laws across the country.42

Each year, state legislators introduce legislation to weaken or repeal their shoot first laws. The legislation has not yet passed in any of the states.

“Shoot First” Laws and Weak Concealed Carry Laws: A Deadly Combination

Shoot first laws become exponentially more dangerous when paired with weak concealed cary laws that grant large numbers of people licenses to carry concealed firearms in public places or allow concealed carry without a license. As noted above, Florida’s concealed handgun licensing law enabled George Zimmerman, who had been previously arrested for battering a law enforcement officer and had a restraining order issued against him, to legally carry a hidden, loaded handgun in public. Currently, thirty states require law enforcement officers to issue concealed handgun licenses to individuals who meet very minimal requirements; twelve states even allow people to carry concealed weapons statewide without permits (six of those states eliminated their concealed carry permit requirements in 2016 and 2017 alone). For more information about laws that allow the concealed carry of firearms in public, visit our Concealed Weapons Permitting page.

Trayvon Martin would not have been killed if George Zimmerman had not been carrying a gun. Zimmerman is not the only individual with a license to carry a concealed weapon who has killed an innocent person, however. An analysis of news reports by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) has identified at least 1289 people, including 21 law enforcement officers, killed nationwide by individuals with concealed handgun licenses since May 2007. VPC also reports that concealed carry licensees have committed 32 mass shootings and 59 murder-suicides during that period. Given the limitations of news reports, the actual number of individuals killed by concealed handgun licensees is likely significantly higher.

Unfortunately, the number of concealed weapons permit holders in Florida has grown dramatically since the state enacted its shoot first law. As of March, 2015, over 1.4 million people held concealed weapons permits in Florida, greater than three times as many as in 2005 when the law was passed.43

Key Legislative Elements

The legislative goals in this policy area are to resist the expansion of, and repeal, “stand your ground” laws in states that already have them, and resist their enactment in states that do not have them.

Notes
  1. David K. Humphreys, Antonio Gasparrini, and Douglas J. Wiebe, “Evaluating the Impact of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Self-defense Law on Homicide and Suicide by Firearm: an Interrupted Time Series Study,” JAMA Internal Medicine 177, no. 1 (2017): 44–50. ⤴︎
  2. David K. Humphreys, Antonio Gasparrini, and Douglas J. Wiebe, “Association Between Enactment of a ‘Stand Your Ground’ Self-defense Law and Unlawful Homicides in Florida,” JAMA Internal Medicine 177, no. 10 (2017): 1523–1524. ⤴︎
  3. Benjamin Ukert, Douglas J. Wiebe, and David K. Humphreys, “Regional Differences in the Impact of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law in Florida,” Preventive Medicine 115 (2018): 68–75. ⤴︎
  4. Robert J. Spitzer, “Stand Your Ground Makes No Sense,” The New York Times, May 4, 2015, https://nyti.ms/2CcMW4y. ⤴︎
  5. Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra, “Does Strengthening Self-defense Law Deter Crime or Escalate Violence? Evidence from Expansions to Castle Doctrine,” Journal of Human Resources 48, no. 3 (2013): 821–854. ⤴︎
  6. ; Chandler McClellan and Erdal Tekin, “Stand Your Ground Laws, Homicides, and Injuries,” Journal of Human Resources 52, no. 3 (2017): 621–653. ⤴︎
  7. Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra, “Does Strengthening Self-defense Law Deter Crime or Escalate Violence? Evidence from Expansions to Castle Doctrine,” Journal of Human Resources 48, no. 3 (2013): 821–854. ⤴︎
  8. Chandler McClellan and Erdal Tekin, “Stand Your Ground Laws, Homicides, and Injuries,” Journal of Human Resources 52, no. 3 (2017): 621–653. ⤴︎
  9. John K. Roman, “Race, Justifiable Homicide, and Stand Your Ground Laws: Analysis of FBI Supplementary Homicide Report Data” Urban Institute, July 2013, https://urbn.is/2VbN1Ml. ⤴︎
  10. Nicole Ackermann, et al., “Race, Law, and Health: Examination of ‘Stand Your Ground ’and Defendant Convictions in Florida,” Social Science & Medicine 142 (2015): 194–201. ⤴︎
  11. Ala. Code §  13A-3-23(b). ⤴︎
  12. Alaska Stat. §§ 11.81.335(b)(5); 11.81.350(f). ⤴︎
  13. Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-405(B); 13-411(B); 13-418(B). ⤴︎
  14. Fla. Stat. § 776.013(3). ⤴︎
  15. Ga. Code Ann. § 16-3-23.1. ⤴︎
  16. Ind. Code Ann. § 35-41-3-2. ⤴︎
  17. Idaho Code §§ 18-4009, 19-202A. ⤴︎
  18. Iowa Code § 704.1. ⤴︎
  19. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-5230. ⤴︎
  20. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 503.050(4); 503.070(3); 503.080(3). ⤴︎
  21. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:19(C). ⤴︎
  22. Mich. Comp. Laws Serv. § 780.972(2). ⤴︎
  23. Miss. Code. Ann. § 97-3-15(4). ⤴︎
  24. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 563.031.3(3). ⤴︎
  25. Mont. Code. Ann. § 45-3-110. ⤴︎
  26. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 200.120(2). ⤴︎
  27. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 627:4(III)(a). ⤴︎
  28. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-51.3. ⤴︎
  29. N.D. Cent. Code, § 12.1-05-07(2)(b)(2). ⤴︎
  30. Ohio Rev. Code 2901.05(B)(1). ⤴︎
  31. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 1289.25(D). ⤴︎
  32. 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 505(2) and (2.3). ⤴︎
  33. S.C. Code § 16-11-440(C). ⤴︎
  34. S.D. Codified Laws § 22-18-4. ⤴︎
  35. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-611(b)(2). ⤴︎
  36. Tex. Penal Code § 9.31(e). ⤴︎
  37. Utah Code Ann. § 76-2-402. ⤴︎
  38. W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(c). ⤴︎
  39. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 939.48. ⤴︎
  40. W.S.§ 6-2-602(a), (e), (f). ⤴︎
  41. People v. Rodriguez, 187 Ill. App. 3d 484, 490. ⤴︎
  42. “Mayor Bloomberg And National African-american Leaders Announce New National Partnership To Reform Or Repeal Florida-style “shoot First” Laws In States Across The Nation,” NYC.gov, April 11, 2012, https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/124-12/mayor-bloomberg-national-african-american-leaders-new-national-partnership-reform. ⤴︎
  43. See Kris Hundley, “Florida ‘stand your ground’ law yields some shocking outcomes depending on how law is applied,” Tampa Bay Times, June 1, 2012, http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/florida-stand-your-ground-law-yields-some-shocking-outcomes-depending-on/1233133. ⤴︎