There are few laws more misunderstood than “Stand Your Ground” – especially Florida’s current version.
Stand Your Ground has become an anti-gun fundraising issue, something they’ve made synonymous with the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin – even though George Zimmerman never invoked the statute. To be clear, despite mainstream media accounts to the contrary, Zimmerman’s was never a Stand Your Ground case.
The gun-ban industry and their adherents in the media have tried to demonize the statute as a “shoot first” or “license to kill” law. As with most everything they write about the Second Amendment, these assertions are pure fiction and nothing more than politically motivated fake news.
Now, two Florida Republican Congressmen, Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube, along with five other Republican Representatives, have introduced the National “Stand Your Ground Act” of 2021.
The national bill, like the Stand-Your-Ground laws already on the books in more than 35 states, are actually pretty simple and designed to safeguard what the framers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. They prohibit prosecutorial overreach and thus safeguard citizens.
“Like Kyle Rittenhouse, every American has the right to defend their life from an attacker. If someone tries to kill you, you should have the right to return fire and preserve your life. Let’s reaffirm in law what exists in our Constitution and in the hearts of our fellow Americans. Abolish the legal duty of retreat everywhere,” Congressman Gaetz said in a press release Monday.
The spirit of the law
The main component of any Stand Your Ground law is that it removes a potential victim’s “duty to retreat.” In other words, a citizen is not required to run away before they can use deadly force in response to a threat of deadly force. From a real-world tactical perspective, this is incredibly important – the difference between life and death.
Think of it this way: You and your spouse are accosted in a dark parking lot by an assailant armed with a handgun. In states without a Stand Your Ground law, legally, you and your spouse would both have to somehow run away and pray you’re not shot in the back.
A Stand Your Ground law removes this deadly “duty to retreat.” It allows you to immediately meet deadly force with deadly force. It allows you to stand your ground.
“It is a defensive law not an offensive law,” said Florida attorney Lisa Chittaro, a former prosecutor now in private practice.
“Without the Stand Your Ground law, you would be required to retreat, and forced to consider your life or your liberty, in the heat of the moment when you’re in extreme danger,” she said. “Our constitution was put in place to limit government power, not expand it. The Stand Your Ground law restores what was given to us in the constitution, which has been encroached upon over time. It resets us to where we are supposed to be.”
The letter of the law
The National “Stand Your Ground Act” of 2021 bill is very clear.
“A person is justified in using, threatening, or attempting to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believe that using, threatening, or attempting to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses, threatens, or attempts to use deadly force in accordance with this paragraph does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand your ground if the person using, threatening, or attempts to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she have a right to be.”
The bill clearly defines a “forcible felony.”
“The term ‘forcible felony’ includes treason, murder, manslaughter, sexual battery, carjacking, home-invasion robbery, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, aggravated stalking, aircraft piracy, unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb, and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.”
“Stand your ground” is also clearly defined.
“The term ‘stand your ground’ means the allowance of an individual to defend himself or herself by any means necessary when his or her life is threatened.”
The new federal bill also limits the amount of force a citizen can use, much to the consternation of the anti-gun industry, which has long described the Stand Your Ground as “shoot first, ask questions later” law.
If an assailant uses “unlawful force” – for which a deadly force response would not be allowable, something far less than a forcible felony – the new federal bill prohibits the use of deadly force in response. To be clear, potential victims may respond to force with force, but not deadly force, if deadly force is not merited. Similarly, the duty to retreat has also been removed.
“A person is justified in using. threatening, or attempting to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against an aggressor’s imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this paragraph does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.”
Burden of proof
Many Stand Your Ground laws put the burden of proof on the State, not the potential defendant. In other words, if someone uses deadly force in response to a threat of deadly force, legally, they are innocent until proven guilty. They do not need to prove their innocence. This presumption of innocence may not sound new or novel, but the anti-gun industry fought it like demons.
In 2017, the Florida legislature put the burden of proof on prosecutors, stating they must prove by “clear and convincing evidence,” that a defendant who claimed immunity under the Stand Your Ground law did not act in self-defense.
In 2018, the Brady Center and Everytown filed a joint amicus brief with the Florida Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Stand Your Ground law’s burden of proof requirement.
Brady and Everytown wanted anyone involved in a defensive gun usage to have to prove their own innocence. The gun-ban groups wanted the courts to assume anyone who used deadly force was guilty, despite the presumption-of-innocence protections in the constitution.
“The Florida legislature overstepped its bounds in an effort to make an ill-conceived law even worse,” Brady staff attorney Josh Scharff said then in a press release.
Ultimately, the gun banners lost this round, but they remain fixated on the law, especially the burden of proof requirement.
The future of the bill
Joe Biden would be more likely to sign a bill banning afternoon naps or chocolate-chip ice cream than a Stand Your Ground bill, and given the current leadership in the House and Senate, the bill would likely never get to his deck. Still, I laud the Congressmen and Congresswoman for introducing the legislation now, since it will help educate the public about the utility and need for the law. Besides, the Biden-Harris regime won’t last forever, and given recent polling, the next administration will very likely be one that’s far more respectful of our individual rights, personal liberties and the need for national Stand Your Ground legislation.
Violent attacks don’t just happen in free states, which protect their citizens from prosecutorial overreach. You’re more likely to be accosted in New York or California than Florida, where criminals know very well anyone could be legally armed. But a lethal response to a deadly threat in New York or California, for which you likely would never be charged in Florida, could result in a life sentence. This disparity needs to end. We are all Americans, after all, and deserving of equal treatment under the law.
Stand Your Ground legislation further codifies our God-given right to self-defense. Certainly, all Americans deserve that, especially those unfortunates living behind the lines in non-free states, like California and New York.
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