'Stand your ground' law now associated with more deaths from guns

The "stand your ground" self-defense law has been in effect in Florida for over six years. The law is now associated with over 700 deaths.
Posted at 6:59 PM, Jul 14, 2023

Ten years ago, George Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. 

And while Zimmerman's defense didn't formally cite "stand your ground," his trial was the first time most Americans had heard of the law. 

"Here was this person who was going home, and just because of how he was perceived, he was deemed violent, or dangerous, and then killed," said Jonel Edwards, the lead organizer of Dream Defenders.

Ultimately, Zimmerman's acquittal set off months of racial justice protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, and thrust Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law into the national spotlight. 

A decade later, some version of "stand your ground" is the law in more than 30 states — a majority of the country. 

After Florida passed the first "stand your ground" law in 2005, several states adopted some form of this legislation that counters two major principles of standard self-defense laws: First, it removes the duty to retreat, which says that a person facing harm or threat must retreat before responding with deadly force in self-defense. Second, it gives any law-abiding citizen the right to defend themselves anywhere they are legally permitted to be. 

"There was nothing that was an error about that shooting. My nephew rang the doorbell, he opened up the door, he shot him in the head and said 'Don't come back here again,'" said Faith Spoonmore, Ralph Yarl’s aunt.

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The case is expected to fall under a Supreme Court decision from last year, stating that firearm regulation must align with "historical tradition."


Shootings like Ralph Yarl's in Missouri have continued to fuel criticism of the law. 

Yarl, a Black teenager, was picking up his younger brothers from a friend's home but went to the wrong house. While there, he was allegedly shot by the homeowner, Andrew Lester, an 85-year-old White man. 

"It harkens back to Trayvon Martin and Ahmad Aubrey and so many of these other tragedies where you had citizens profile and shoot our Black children and the police then let them go home and sleep in their beds at night," said Ben Crump, a Civil Rights attorney.

A 2022 studyof 41 U.S. states found "stand your ground" was associated with an 8% to 11% national increase in monthly homicide rates — that's about 700 more firearm killings a year.

All that said, many conservative lawmakers stand by the legal doctrine. Florida State Senator Dennis Baxley, who sponsored the bill that would eventually become "stand your ground," defended it to Scripps News in 2019.

"I would like to see numbers on how many homicides were avoided because somebody was willing to act. So far, I am satisfied that we save far more lives of innocent people by having the presumptions that we have in law," said Baxley.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbottcited "stand your ground" as the reason he plans to pardon Daniel Perry who was convicted of murder, for shooting and killing a protester during a 2020 protest. 

"Stand your ground" isn't the only controversial gun-rights law making its way across the country. 

Permitless carry, which allows for citizens to buy and carry guns without a permit, is also the law of the land in a majority of U.S. states.