The 23 States That Have Sweeping Self-Defense Laws Just Like Florida’s

Cora Currier
Propublica / News Report
Published: Friday 23 March 2012
“In Florida, once self-defense is invoked, the burden is on the prosecution to disprove the claim.”
Article image

“Stand Your Ground,” “Shoot First," “Make My Day” — state laws asserting an expansive right to self-defense — have come into focus after last month’s killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

While local prosecutors have not arrested the shooter, George Zimmerman, the case is now being investigated by the Department of Justice and a Florida state attorney. It’s not clear whether Florida’s self-defense law will be applied in the case. (The police report on the shooting refers to it as an “unnecessary killing to prevent unlawful act.”)

Still, in not arresting Zimmerman, local officials have pointed to Florida’s wide definition of self-defense. In 2005, Florida became the first state to explicitly expand a person’s right to use deadly force for self-defense. Deadly force is justified if a person is gravely threatened, in the home or “any other place where he or she has a right to be.”

In Florida, once self-defense is invoked, the burden is on the prosecution to disprove the claim.

Most states have long allowed the use of reasonable force, sometimes including deadly force, to protect oneself inside one’s home — the so-called Castle Doctrine. Outside the home, people generally still have a “duty to retreat” from an attacker, if possible, to avoid confrontation. In other words, if you can get away and you shoot anyway, you can be prosecuted. In Florida, there is no duty to retreat. You can “stand your ground” outside your home, too.

Florida is not alone. Twenty-three other states now allow people to stand their ground. Most of these laws were passed after Florida’s. (A few states never had a duty to retreat to begin with.)

Here’s a rundown of the states with laws mirroring the one in Florida, where there’s no duty to retreat in public places and where, in most cases, self-defense claims have some degree of immunity in court. (The specifics of what kind of immunity, and when the burden of proof lies on the prosecution, vary from state to state.)

Many of the laws were originally advocated as a way to address domestic abuse cases — how could a battered wife retreat if she was attacked in her own home? Such legislation also has been recently pushed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups.

Click on the state to see its law.

Alabama [9]

Arizona [10]

Georgia [11]

Idaho [12]

Illinois [13] (The law does not includes a duty to retreat, which courts have interpreted as a right to expansive self-defense.)

Indiana [14]

Kansas [15]

Kentucky [16]

Louisiana [17]

Michigan [18]

Mississippi [19]

Montana [20]

Nevada [21]

North Carolina [22]

Oklahoma [23]

Oregon [24] (Also does not include a duty to retreat.)

South Carolina [25]

South Dakota [26]

Tennessee [27]

Texas [28]

Utah [29]

Washington [30] (Also does not include a duty to retreat.)

West Virginia



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11 comments on "The 23 States That Have Sweeping Self-Defense Laws Just Like Florida’s"

Fyrehed

March 23, 2012 4:32pm

This is EXTREMELY disappointing to me. These laws are not the problem. The shooting of Trayvon Martin was NOT done in 'self-defense.' The boy was not in an attack position, he wasn't armed, and he caused ZERO harm to his murderer prior to his execution. Zimmerman needs to be arrested and prosecuted for what this is: a racial crime. Messing with self-defense laws is a really cheap way to solve this problem (and it does nothing to resolve what happened to Mr. Martin). Don't you dare think about taking away laws that say I have a right to defend myself. That is not justice.

pitch1934

March 23, 2012 4:22pm

Just in case you missed it, a reporter was threatened by a guy with a gun in Arkansas recently when the reporter was trying to cover a story. Too many guns, too many nuts with guns, too many nuts with guns wothout self control.

Livemike

March 24, 2012 3:22am

Well if he threatened the guy it's still a felony. So it's got nothing to do with "too many guns". It's got to do with the cops not bothering to do their job. As usual.

triumph181

March 23, 2012 3:16pm

Syed, you express a thought that is verboten in America but can be explained this way. In America we do things because we are Americans. We send drones into Pakistan and Afghanistan and kill people, we invade other nations and we do not protect our own citizens but we do that because we are America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. We also appear to be the home of the incredibly arrogant and stupid. Telling these people that they have the right and the duty to shoot anyone who appears to threaten them is not smart.

Theodore Ziolkowski

March 23, 2012 1:04pm

SELF-DEFENSE??? Or a License to Kill would be a more appropriate title. Maybe if New York had a Law like this the NYPD would be less likely to use the force they are using against the OWS movement and Protestors. They just might be shot in Self-Defense.

triumph181

March 23, 2012 12:51pm

A self defense law is a thinly disguised vigilante law which is very visible in the Florida case. It is time to stop letting the NRA write our gun control, or lack of control, legislation and get on with the duty of eliminating all guns from our society. It has worked in many civilized countries around the world and the world did not come to a halt.For all the psychopaths out there who really feel that urge to gun down defenseless children, join the military or Blackwater clones and have at it!

ChetDude

March 23, 2012 12:52pm

Actually, it was the corporations that propagated this nonsense...

Today's Nation: How ALEC Took Florida's 'License to Kill' Law National - John Nichols

ChetDude

March 23, 2012 12:50pm

Thanks to ALEC, it looks like I'll have to buy a "liberal" gun to protect me and mine from the right-wing a**holes here in Arizona, eh?

Well, at least I got trained in the Navy so I'll put my gun up against theirs any day!

FYI: http://www.thenation.com/blog/166978/how-alec-took-floridas-license-kill...

syed salamah al...

March 23, 2012 12:01pm

Isn't it true that the Afghans 'feel threatened' in like manner or more by the US and NATO trigger happy 'noble' soldiers? Isn't it then true and just that they shoot those threatening them in like manner? Isn't it true that the Afghans are using the 'same' rights as are being enjoyed by the 23 states in the US? Why shouldn't they?

Glockslinger

March 23, 2012 11:58am

This is about the best summary I've read on the topic. One problem here is that the media is grossly misinformed about the law. Adding to the confusion is the politics that always comes up whenever guns are the issue: gun ban groups are using this incident to try to vilify and overturn this law in an effort to chip away at recent gains by pro-gun rights groups. But the biggest problem is that the police had no clue as to how this new law was supposed to work! They therefore misapplied it, letting a cold-blooded killer go free.I've detailed the entire fiasco on my blog, here: http://djstucrew.livejournal.com/

The bottom line is that the law isn't the problem; it's a lack of educated police on how this law is to be applied. Rules of the use of deadly force STILL apply!

ChetDude

March 23, 2012 12:54pm

No, the problem is that this law enables ANY self-styled vigilante to get off!

It's the lack of educated gunsters (like yourself) that's the problem!

As for actual SELF DEFENSE, the laws allowing that have been in place for centuries...

This bullsh*t is a vigilante's license to murder...or are you just not paying attention to the results of its passage...