Opinion

Stand Your Ground Laws in Various States

court room

Anyone even tangentially interested in guns, gun control and self-defense has likely heard much fevered discussion and clutching of pearls over the “Stand Your Ground Law” that seems to be sweeping the nation.

Gun advocates cheer for it, and cite it as the chief defense of citizens’ use of force in response to an attack. Detractors label them “shoot first laws” and a hearkening back to the dim and brutal days of the taming of the West, when the muddy thoroughfares were bogged with the blood of cowboys, lawmen and bandits.

As I have written of before, matters of lethal force are no time for educated guesses and wild-hair theories. Failing to meet the strict law of the land will result in terrible consequences. As I have preached again and again, knowledge of the law, and incorporating it into your defense training and decision making processes is essential for success as an armed citizen.

Lots of opinion. Lots of talk. But what is the Stand Your Ground law, really? How does it codify a person’s right to defend themselves, and to what extent? What are the limitations and drawbacks, if any, of such laws? Any good armed citizen wants the answers to those questions and more, so in the following paragraphs we’ll be examining the concept of Stand Your Ground in great detail.

What is the Stand Your Ground Law Exactly?

Let’s get this spoiler out of the way: there is no Stand Your Ground Law. At least, not a sweeping, boilerplate piece of legislation that is being adopted wholesale, state by state, to the chagrin of anti-gunners and the celebration of Pro-2A types. No, Stand Your Ground, or SYG, is really a concept for a bunch of legislation, law and sometimes procedural legal opinion that is often very similar in effect from one jurisdiction to another.

There is no federal SYG law, and in many states the so-called Stand Your Ground laws aren’t even called as such. But in other states, they may contain specifically that language or reference. Understand that when you see SYG, it is simply shorthand for describing a given state’s laws that adhere to the concept.

That concept is this: a person has a right to defend themselves against an attack with no legal duty to retreat so long as they are in a place that they have a legal and lawful right to be. Pretty simple, yes? It is somewhat more complicated in practice, but largely not too much more.

The long version of the concept would be that a person who is in place they legally have a right to be, and is not engaged in any illegal activity, has the right to use deadly force in defense when they are attacked in such a way that they may suffer death or great bodily injury and furthermore they have no legal obligation to attempt to retreat.

Whew. If it sounds like legalese, you are right, but the devil as always is in the details. Nuance is critical for full understanding of the laws, but we will get to those a little later, and anyway each variation in the wording of the legislation among states that pass such laws can make a big difference, so we’ll get into examples a little later on.

SYG laws have much in common with Castle Doctrine law, which states that a person defending their home or occupied dwelling (and often vehicle or conveyance) has no obligation to attempt retreat against a home invader so long as a risk of death or great bodily injury is present, and further is (typically) immune to liability resulting from such an event. In essence, you may consider SYG laws Castle Doctrine for the public sphere: anywhere you may legally go, so long as you are not breaking any laws while there, you have the right to use deadly force in defense with no legal duty to retreat.

Why All the Fuss Over “Duty to Retreat?”

Lots of fussing, and for good reason. SYG self-defense laws started to codify and get adopted in various states around 2005-2006. Prior to that, most states by letter or in practice followed more closely to the Common Law tenets of self-defense.

Common Law interpretation of self-defense revolved around the concept of “reasonable force” in defense. In short, reasonable force places more of the onus on use of lethal force as an absolute last resort, and even then only after the intended (and soon to be actual) victim has retreated or attempted to retreat to a place of safety.

Sound eminently reasonable, and many of my readers have indeed read my writings proffering my opinion that you should retreat or avoid a threat if at all possible. If at all possible. That’s the difference. The issue with a state-mandated legal duty to retreat is that a good guy or good gal may be forced to attempt to retreat out of fight that has already begun.

To the uninitiated and those who know little about personal violence, this of course makes eminent sense: Get away! The problem is that it is very nearly impossible to withdraw from a pitched fight once engaged without exorbitant risk of injury. Any hobby historian of conflict will confirm that, in any battle once begun, the side that attempts to break and flee usually sustains some serious licks.

That brings us back around to the quandary: any good guy or good gal will of course attempt to follow the law, if not from a sense of moral obligation than from a serious desire to avoid persecution. It has been seen time and time again that citizens who attempt to back out of fight with an attacker who has already closed with them and is intending them harm is often gravely wounded or killed. The defender must do something to catalyze the attacker and stop or diminish the assault before escape can be safely made!

Note here and now that a legal obligation to retreat is still the law of the land in some states and localities. Not nearly as many, thanks to the widespread adoption of SYG laws, but it is still law in some places. Also note that, ethically and practically, if escape is possible, safely, it is always the best solution to your problem as a civilian.

The acme of conflict is to avoid a fight. But the entire purpose of SYG and similar laws is to not unduly burden a potential victim with the onerous legal obligation to retreat from a situation that they practically cannot withdraw from without further endangering themselves. Without SYG laws, a citizen is often placed in classic dilemma: faced with an attacker, the citizen can either use force and risk serious criminal prosecution, or attempt to escape and risk serious injury or death.

Specifics

When you examine any states’ SYG laws, you’ll see a repeated emphasis on “… legal right to be,” and “… not engaged in any unlawful activity.” Those are core concepts for a couple of reasons.
First, this prevents scumbags from rigging the game and claiming SYG as a defense and cover over the acts that SYG laws explicitly intend to protect citizens against. It sounds crazy, but you know lawyers.

gun

“Mr. Scumbag, why did you shoot the alleged victim Mr. Public outside the mall last week?”

“It was self-defense, sir.”

“How so, Mr. Scumbag?”

“Well, sir, I set out to mug Mr. Public, but I meant him no harm. He clearly objected to my mugging him, and pulled a gun on me. I was afraid for my life, and so I shot him first. Self-defense.”

I know that sounds Looney Tunes bonkers-nuts, but without that specification it could and probably has been used as a defense by a criminal (or at least tried). The other side of that coin though is that a citizen will have no cover for action if you are doing anything illegal at the time you are forced to use deadly force to protect yourself.

For instance, let’s say you are trespassing when you are genuinely attacked by a bad guy. You weren’t up to no good, just on a piece of land that wasn’t yours and you really should not have been on. Otherwise your shoot is as clean as it gets. Not so fast, SYG may not apply since your were trespassing.

Or how about this: your home state has legislation on the books that make “no guns allowed” signs have force of law. Your local coffee haunt has such a sign clearly posted. You ignore it, as you do, and carry your otherwise legal gun in for your morning croissant and coffee. Lo and behold, a robber! You decide to intervene on behalf of your baristas and shoot the baddie.

Bummer: your otherwise clean shoot is now tarnished because you were illegally carrying, meaning you have no Stand Your Ground law protecting you, and ergo may very well have had a duty to retreat instead. Rut ro. Now you will reap the whirlwind.

Basically, contrary to the opinion of detractors and professional scolds, SYG laws do not authorize you to shoot a bad guy or perceived bad guy on a whim. In fact, all other tenets of self-defense law and legal precedent apply. If you should shoot an attacker who, it was later determined, was not presenting a lethal threat, you will not be able to claim Stand Your Ground as any kind of defense. Another bad end.
Stand Your Ground Laws State to State

Presently in 2018, the majority of states in the U.S.A. have SYG laws in one form or another, or effectively apply SYG from legal precedent. A couple odd-balls have SYG apply within one’s vehicle only, while the rest have wither Castle Doctrine only or straight-across duty to retreat, even from one’s home, because they are pinko commies who love poor, persecuted criminal origin stories.

Of most importance: It is crucial that you read, understand and correctly interpret each and every state’s own unique laws that pertain to SYG (or the lack thereof) that you will be in. Ignorance is no excuse. You are solely responsible for your decision to use force of any kind, and especially in instances where lethal force is used, your every thought, decision and action will be dissected with excruciating exactness. You must know the law!

States that have legislatively codified and adopted Stand Your Ground-type laws include:

• Alabama
• Alaska
• Arizona
• Florida (ever leading the way on the 2nd Amendment and citizens’ rights of defense)
• Georgia
• Idaho
• Indiana
• Iowa
• Kansas
• Kentucky
• Louisiana
• Michigan
• Mississippi
• Missouri
• Montana
• Nevada
• New Hampshire
• North Carolina
• Oklahoma
• Pennsylvania
• South Carolina
• South Dakota
• Tennessee
• Texas
• Utah
• West Virginia
• Wyoming

States that effectively practice Stand Your Ground but do not have explicit laws codifying such on the books include:

• California (Surprise!)
• Colorado
• Illinois (Double Surprise!)
• New Mexico
• Oregon
• Virginia
• Washington

Precedent, case law, and jury instruction is all fine and good, but do not forget that you are one bad turn away from being a new precedent, and not a good one, in such places should the political winds blow against you.

The weirdo states I mentioned earlier that have SYG laws covering you in your vehicle or conveyance are:

• North Dakota (Bit of a disappointment)
• Ohio
• Wisconsin

So you have no obligation to bail out of your vehicle during a carjacking, for instance, but would have to retreat from a mugger if confronted outside a Burger King.

States that have legislatively adopted Castle Doctrine are:

• Arkansas
• Connecticut
• Delaware
• Maine
• Maryland
• Massachusetts
• Minnesota
• Nebraska
• New York
• New Jersey
• Rhode Island

You will have an obligation to retreat from a public space, legally, in these places, but not from inside your home or occupied dwelling.

The communist prefectures of Vermont and the swarming hive of viciousness and slander known as Washington D.C. require you to flee from an attacker no matter what: in your car, in your home, or even in your own home.

I don’t recommend you go to either of those places. If all of this sounds like a lot to take in, it is, but learn it you must if you hope to navigate the minefield of laws and regulation.

Conclusion

Stand Your Ground laws are a major boon for the armed citizen in any state that they are adopted in. Far from the Wild West enabling legislation they are painted to be, they simply place the defender in their rightful place as victim from the onset when an attack occurs.

Even so, each and every state in our great union is a little different when it comes to SYG laws, and you must be fluent in all of them that you live, work and play in.

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About Charles Yor

Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.
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7 thoughts on “Stand Your Ground Laws in Various States

  1. Very enlightening article, Charles!

    “The weirdo states I mentioned earlier that have SYG laws covering you in your vehicle or conveyance are:

    • North Dakota (Bit of a disappointment)
    • Ohio
    • Wisconsin”

    I am not totally clear on the OH laws personally, but have a libtard neighbor (we have never been ‘friends’, used to try to be friendly) who is all about the Castle Doctrine, who has talked incessantly in the past (when we did still associate with him) about how he could ‘defend himself and his property’.

    As TOP has taught CCL in OH maybe he can expound a little bit on OH actual laws, since we have a good contingent of members from OH.

      1. Grammyprepper,

        I am not totally clear on the OH laws personally, but have a libtard neighbor (we have never been ‘friends’, used to try to be friendly) who is all about the Castle Doctrine, who has talked incessantly in the past (when we did still associate with him) about how he could ‘defend himself and his property’.

        There are too many of these characters around who know just enough to be dangerous or self important. The article pretty much hits the highlights that self defense may only be used to defend a person from imminent death or severe bodily harm and not to defend property. There are of course common sense exceptions, such as when a person is about to throw a burning Molotov cocktail at your home or vehicle.

        As TOP has taught CCL in OH maybe he can expound a little bit on OH actual laws, since we have a good contingent of members from OH.

        First of all, while I have been a certified instructor for nearly 3 decades, IANAL, so check out what I say on your own.
        I next need to point out that Ohio has no CCL (Concealed Cary Law) or CCW (Concealed Weapons Law); but, has a very specific CHL (Concealed Handgun License) law. Having the license does not authorize you to carry a concealed butcher knife, baseball bat, tire iron, etc. when carried specifically as a weapon; but, does allow carrying multiple handguns if so desired. We may also carry openly in many cases; but, carrying a loaded handgun in a vehicle ”requires” a CHL to do so legally.
        The best digest of Ohio CHL laws is in a book published by the Ohio A.G. This book is required reading for anyone taking a CHL class. The latest version is online and may be found here: https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/CCWManual

        Along with the basic self defense, bodily harm, death, etc. the statutes only allow enough Reasonable force to stop the threat. I pull a knife on you, you point your firearm at me and I drop the knife. The fight is over. I pull a firearm on you and you perceive a credible threat, at which point you shoot me once at which point I fall and drop the firearm, the fight is over. Shooting me once more “for good measure” once the threat is gone, at that point could well get you in the hot seat.
        There are also specific places you may and may not carry. Carrying in your local coffee shop with the sign on the door is a violation of the trespassing laws, and if discovered and asked to leave you need to leave. Defending yourself from an armed robber trying to rob the coffee shop would be problematic; but, most likely survivable. If you walk past that “No Guns allowed” sign on a courthouse, sheriffs, office, police station, or State Patrol post, it is a felony, so you need to know the details of the law.

        One other consideration to keep in mind is that generally, The first to call 911 is the victim. You pull a knife on me, I pull a gun and you flee with no shots fired. You should immediately call 911 and report the incident, otherwise, I may call 911 and report some nut who pointed a gun at me and you will have some explaining to do even with your license.
        The DW & I recently renewed our CHL’s last October (her 1st and my 3rd) and there is a new feature to the current license. We are the 25th state that does a thorough enough BG check for the CHL so that firearm purchases from a dealer do not require the NICS (National Instant Check System) check.
        In the article the scenario: ” “Well, sir, I set out to mug Mr. Public, but I meant him no harm. He clearly objected to my mugging him, and pulled a gun on me. I was afraid for my life, and so I shot him first. is clearly covered by Ohio Law, in that you, even as a license holder, may not have instigated the encounter. This is covered in the document linked above.

        States that have legislatively codified and adopted Stand Your Ground-type laws include:

        Ohio is in the throes of changing this law with the recent passage of a modified House Bill 228.

        The SYG provisions were removed under threat of veto from Governor John Kasich.
        Current Ohio law states gun owners have a ”duty to retreat” if possible before using self defense in a life-threatening situation. The provision that was removed would have eliminated that duty in part I think because opponents say stand your ground would give people permission to shoot anyone.
        The bill doesn’t change Ohio’s castle doctrine, which allows gun owners to use force in their homes or vehicles in self-defense against people who are unlawfully inside. Prior case law has determined that your hotel room or RV / tent in a campground qualify as your home.

  2. “Stand your ground” laws are really nothing new. Perhaps for the general citizenry they might be, but police officers have been operating under those laws for a long time (mainly due to case law from court decisions).

    Police officers have no duty to retreat. That doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes a damned good thing to do, tactically.

    Florida’s Stand Your Ground law actually grants citizens more legal protections than it does police officers. A lawful stand your ground use of force case, protects citizens from criminal AND civil suits. Police officers do not have the civil suit protections because of their status as government agents. However, police officers are allowed more leeway in shooting fleeing felons than citizens are. In Florida, if the threat to your person is fleeing, it isn’t a threat anymore. But, police officers are allowed to take into account the potential future danger that threat is if allowed to successfully flee.

    As a retired cop, with extensive firearms experience and experience investigating self-defense shootings by citizens and cops, I know well that if you don’t have to shoot someone, don’t. Assuming the rule of law is still functional, at best you will be swamped in paperwork and interviews (even as a citizen). I almost shot several people over my career, but I was smart enough (lucky too) to have adequate cover and I could afford to take a few extra seconds to give further verbal commands to the criminal, successfully.

    If the rule of law is non-functional, the rule of the feud may still be doing just fine. Something to bear in mind.

    1. Zulu 3-6,
      <blockquote>I was smart enough (lucky too) to have adequate cover and I could afford to take a few extra seconds to give further verbal commands to the criminal, successfully.</blockquote>
      You of course meant "verbal commands to the alleged criminal”, Right? LOL

    2. Zulu 3-6,

      I almost shot several people over my career, but I was smart enough (lucky too) to have adequate cover and I could afford to take a few extra seconds to give further verbal commands to the criminal, successfully.

      You did of course mean: “verbal commands to the alleged criminal” Right? LOL

  3. IMO anti-stand your ground laws are pro-criminal. They open homeowners to prosecution for defending themselves and/or their property. If criminals want to be safe, they should not commit crimes.

    Personally, I feel that you should be entitled to NO legal protection if you are injured, in any way, while committing a crime. The extreme version of this would eventually cut down on jay walking, but it could be limited to felonies.

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