What Are “Stand Your Ground” Laws? 5 Facts To Understand

by
Owen Poindexter
Following the verdict acquitting George Zimmerman of all charges in connection to the Trayvon Martin killing, “Stand Your Ground” laws have received renewed attention. What does Stand Your Ground mean, which states have it and did it affect the Zimmerman trial?

stand your ground, george zimmerman, trayvon martin, eric holder, stand your ground laws
The acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin has brought renewed attention to "Stand Your Ground" laws. PHOTO: Reuters

Following the verdict acquitting George Zimmerman of all charges in connection to the Trayvon Martin killing, “Stand Your Ground” laws have received renewed attention. What does Stand Your Ground mean, which states have it and did it affect the Zimmerman trial? We have you covered.

ALSO SEE: 5 Cases That Show Why Stand Your Ground Laws Have To Go

1.       Stand Your Ground laws allow people to kill in self-defense

Self-defense laws already exist as a legally recognized defense for assaulting someone, but Stand Your Ground laws go further. In states with Stand Your Ground laws, people may respond to a perceived threat with deadly force. The threat has to be “reasonable” (so, “he was looking at me funny” shouldn’t count), but there is no requirement that the threatened person has to retreat or take other evasive action first. You may shoot first and ask questions later, and if you can prove that you were threatened, you can claim self-defense under the Stand Your Ground law.

2.       30 States currently have Stand Your Ground Laws

They include every state on the Southern border except New Mexico and California. The Southeast is almost entirely Stand Your Ground territory, with Tennessee, both Carolinas, West Virginia and Georgia all having the law and Arkansas the only holdout in the area. New Hampshire is the only state in New England with a Stand Your Ground law, but on the opposite coast, both Washington and Oregon passed the measure. You can see the complete list of Stand Your Ground states here.

3.       In 2005, only Florida had a Stand Your Ground law

Stand Your Ground laws have surged across the country at a remarkable pace. Several forces worked together to make that happen, namely the gun lobby and ALEC. ALEC or the American Legislative Exchange Council, is an organization that brings together state legislators, corporations and non-profits. The latter two can propose model legislation and the legislators can vote on it. ALEC has a strong right-wing lean, and has been very effective at pushing certain legislation, including voter ID laws, union-busting laws and Stand Your Ground.

While Michael Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns has provided a counterweight with financial clout, prior to the Newtown shooting in December 2012, the gun lobby routinely got what it wanted both federally and in states.

4.       George Zimmerman did not use the Stand Your Ground defense to justify his killing of Trayvon Martin

Though the killing of Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman trial are what has brought renewed attention to Stand Your Ground laws, Zimmerman did not use the Stand Your Ground defense. Instead, Zimmerman’s lawyers relied on the more universal self-defense laws in justifying the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin. However, police in Sanford, Fla. said the law was one of the reasons that Zimmerman was not arrested shortly after he shot Martin. At least one juror named Stand Your Ground as a reason that Zimmerman was justified in shooting Trayvon Martin.

5.       Attorney General Eric Holder and the NAACP have called for a repeal of Stand Your Ground laws

The Stand Your Ground conversation is just beginning. Does it ensure the right of people to defend themselves, as proponents say, or does it “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods," as Holder said. The fight is already finding familiar party lines, with most Republicans favoring Stand Your Ground laws, and an increasing number of Democrats opposed.

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