Everything you need to know about ‘stand your ground’ laws

July 15, 2013

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin has cast a renewed spotlight on Florida's "stand your ground" law. While Zimmerman's attorneys did not mount a "stand your ground" defense in his case, the law has become the subject of national attention, and was discussed during the trial.

So, what is the law, when did it pass, and where else can you find similar laws on the books? Here's a rundown of everything you need to know.

What is Florida's stand your ground law?


George Zimmerman (Joe Burbank/AP)

It's a law that allows people to, well, stand their ground -- pretty much anywhere -- instead of retreating if they reasonably believe doing so is necessary to "prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony." In short, after the law was passed, people could defend themselves even outside of their homes -- with deadly force if necessary -- if they believed someone was trying to kill them or seriously harm them.

Here's an NPR report with more detail on the law.

When was the law passed?


Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R). (Hector Gabino/AP)

It was passed in 2005 39-0 in the state Senate and 94-20 in the state House, and then-Gov. Jeb Bush (R) signed it.

Who was advocating for it? And who opposed it?


NRA head Wayne LaPierre (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

The National Rifle Association lobbied hard for the measure, while law enforcement officials like Miami's police chief opposed it. Defenders of the law often cited the 2004 case of James Workman, a retiree asleep in his RV who shot an intruder and had to wait months before prosecutors decided he engaged is self-defense. Opponents worried the law would encourage the use of deadly force.

After Saturday's verdict in the Martin case, Florida's state Senate Democratic leader called for a second look at all self-defense laws. But given the GOP-tilt of the Florida legislature, it's unlikely the stand your ground law will undergo major changes.

What has the impact been?


A protester against " stand your ground." (Joe Raedle/Getty Images )

In the five years after the law was passed, the rate of justifiable homicides in Florida tripled. Defenders of the law cite a drop in the state's violent crime rate.

Which other states have similar laws on the books?

Since Florida became the first state to pass an explicit stand your ground law, more than 30 others have passed some version of it, with the help of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a organization that promotes conservative bills. Here's a 2012 map of stand your ground laws nationwide

What's next? 

In the wake of the Florida case, we can expect an increase in calls to repeal or at least revisit the laws across the country. "I think that's up to the state. I think they should revisit that," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press."

An effort to repeal a stand your ground law in New Hampshire recently fell short, and repealing or changing legislation is generally difficult, so opponents of the laws will face uphill climbs in seeking the changes they want to see happen. Expect to hear a lot from opponents of the stand your ground law about a Texas A&M University study that found states with such laws have more homicides than states without them.

Updated at 10:48 a.m.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Ed O'Keefe · July 15, 2013