Learn About Stand Your Ground Law Before You Shoot

If one carries a firearm, it behooves one to know applicable gun laws including Stand Your Ground and other pertinent statutes. These gun laws define when, where and how one may use deadly force legally.

Stand Your Ground Law, Castle Doctrine And Related Statutes

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You may have heard of a Stand Your Ground law at some point, or perhaps the related Castle Doctrine or Make My Day law. These laws codify when and where a person can use deadly force, which is naturally of interest to people who carry firearms for self-defense.

The exact nature of every law, though, varies from state to state. You are responsible to know the laws where you reside and how they are applied.

The “Castle Doctrine,” also referred to as the “Make My Day” law, governs use of deadly force in the home. A “Stand Your Ground” law governs use of deadly force outside of one’s home. In either case, the general rule is that one can use deadly force if they reasonably believe they or another person are about to be grievously injured, sexually assaulted or murdered. Protection of property, say a vehicle and so forth, is authorized by statute in some states but not in others.

Some states have a de jure stand your ground law, meaning there’s an actual law on the books; some have a de facto one, meaning court cases and decisions have in effect/for all intents and purposes created it.

Currently, according to the American Bar Association, 33 states have a stand your ground law of some sort; Wikipedia’s page on castle doctrines reports all but five states have some sort of law regarding defense in or of one’s home.

Duty To Retreat

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One thing to know regarding the stand your ground law, castle doctrine or otherwise is the “Duty To Retreat,” or the legal obligation is to avoid using deadly force in defending yourself. Duty to retreat laws can take a number of forms; some states have a duty to retreat law instead of a stand your ground law, meaning that you’re obligated to not use deadly force - even in self-defense - until you have attempted to flee or have exhausted all other possibilities.

It can also mean you have to try to de-escalate the situation before using deadly force. Take, for instance, Colorado’s stand your ground law. There is no duty to retreat for a bystander but there IS for any person engaged in a conflict involving some sort of violence.

Let’s say two people engage in a brawl in a public place. A simple fistfight isn’t sufficient cause to resort to deadly force, but let’s assume one of the people in the donnybrook gains an advantage over the other. The person getting pummelled can’t resort to deadly force unless they try to flee, capitulate or otherwise stop the engagement.

However, an armed bystander who believes the person who is losing is about to be killed CAN resort to deadly force without needing to de-escalate the situation first.

After The Dust Settles

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A stand your ground law also won’t keep you out of court. Even if you think you are fully justified in pulling the trigger, there’s a chance you will be arrested and tried. You may face civil liability, even if acquitted criminally.

Every case is different. Take the case of Markus Kaarma, for instance; Kaarma shot and killed an intruder at his home in Missoula, Mont., in April 2014. However, since he fired multiple times even after the intruder was down (and baited for intruders) he was sentenced to 70 years in prison for homicide, according to USA Today.

By contrast, there is also case of Gail Gerlach in nearby Spokane, Wash. Gerlach shot and killed a young man stealing his vehicle in 2013. Gerlach was arrested and tried, but ultimately acquitted in 2014, according to the Spokesman Review.

Several years ago, Texan Joe Horn shot and killed two men burglarizing his neighbor’s house. He faced no charges at all.

These are just some of the regulations regarding use of a firearm in defense of yourself. Do your homework - none of this should be regarded as legal advice. Research the laws and court cases in your state and area to find out what the laws are for you.

Sam Hoober  

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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