Stand Your Ground Law

A Stand Your Ground Law is a law that allows citizens to protect themselves if they feel their lives are in danger, regardless of whether they could have safely exited the situation. For example, Stand Your Ground law states that no one should feel forced to leave a premises they have every right to be in.

Therefore, the law allows him to use lethal force against a person if he feels that person is an imminent threat to his safety. To explore this concept, consider the following Stand Your Ground Law definition.

Definition of Stand Your Ground Law


  1. A law that allows a citizen to defend himself by any means necessary when his life is threatened, regardless of whether he could have safely left the situation.


1600s                 English Law

What is Stand Your Ground Law?

The meaning of Stand Your Ground Law is rooted in home defense. For this reason, another name for it is the “Castle Doctrine,” because the law allows people to do whatever they feel is necessary to protect themselves and their home, or “castle.” This includes the use of deadly force.

For example, Stand Your Ground Law protects those who use a gun or knife to defend themselves, even if that attempt results in a fatal injury. For this reason, some refer to this concept as the “shoot first” law. While some states require individuals to flee a dangerous situation before resorting to deadly violence, states that uphold Stand Your Ground do not. These laws protect those who choose to defend themselves and their property, even when there is a legitimate opportunity for a safe escape.

Effects of Stand Your Ground Laws

The effects of Stand Your Ground Laws are spotty at best, and researchers are still studying them. For instance, it appears that one of the effects of Stand Your Ground Laws is that they may moderately increase the rates of homicide in states that enforce these laws.

In the same vein, however, researchers have not determined there to be any effects of Stand Your Ground Laws on other kinds of violent crimes in those states. There is also inconclusive evidence regarding the rates of suicide and defensive gun use in Stand Your Ground states.

Stand Your Ground States

Stand Your Ground states in the U.S. include states mostly in the South and Midwest. For instance, Stand Your Ground states in the South include Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Midwest Stand Your Ground states include Missouri, Indiana, and Kansas. Some states are not “Stand Your Ground states” per se, though they do adopt the ideas in practice. These states are mostly in the Western U.S. and include California, Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon, to name a few.

Some states limit “stand your ground” practices to when a person is in their vehicle, like in Ohio, North Dakota, or Wisconsin. Other states follow the “castle doctrine,” which is the idea that people can use deadly force in their home, car, etc. but if they are in public – where others might be hurt – they must retreat. These states include New York, Maryland, Connecticut, and Maine. Of all fifty states, only two – Vermont and Washington, D.C. – require citizens to exit the situation, rather than attempt to defend themselves – even if they are in their own homes.

Examples of Stand Your Ground Law and Racial Disparity

Perhaps one of the most prominent Stand Your Ground Law examples in Americans’ minds is the Trayvon Martin case (more on that later). In 2012, in response to the Martin case, the Tampa Bay Times created a report detailing cases involving Stand Your Ground Laws. The Times also created a database of Stand Your Ground Law examples wherein those charged attempted to invoke the law as a defense.

Interestingly, what the Times discovered was that no racial disparity existed in the state of Florida. Police were charging, and juries were convicting, whites at the same rate as blacks, and mixed-race cases were about the same for black-on-white and white-on-black crime. Two things the Times did discover were:

  1. The victims of black attackers were more successful at using the Stand Your Ground Law as a defense than victims of white attackers were.
  2. Black attackers were more likely to be carrying a weapon and committing a crime when shot.

Per the Urban Institute, juries deciding white-on-black homicides in Stand Your Ground states are over 350% more likely to side with the defense than in cases of white-on-black homicides. And a study conducted in 2015 found that Stand Your Ground Law examples involving victims who were white were doubly likely to result in convictions than were cases involving victims who were black.

Stand Your Ground Law Example — Trayvon Martin

Perhaps the most well-known example of Stand Your Ground Law invoked as a defense in a case involving a homicide is the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. In February of 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. At the time, Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin’s relatives lived. Martin was in town visiting his relatives.


On the night of the shooting, Zimmerman noticed Martin as Martin returned from a nearby convenience store, on foot, to the Twin Lakes housing community. Zimmerman was passing through the neighborhood in his car while running an errand. Zimmerman called the police, suspicious of Martin, who he said he believed to be “up to no good.” Zimmerman told the dispatcher Martin started to run, and he then followed him, despite the dispatcher telling Zimmerman that wasn’t necessary.

When Zimmerman caught up to Martin, they engaged in a violent encounter which resulted in Zimmerman fatally shooting Martin 70 yards from the door of the house Martin was staying at. Martin did not have a weapon on him, yet Zimmerman, who suffered minor injuries to his face and head, claimed to have shot him “in self-defense.” The police arrested Zimmerman. However, due to Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, coupled with the fact that there was no evidence to refute Zimmerman’s self-defense claim, police had no choice but to let him go.


As word of the case spread to the point of national coverage, thousands of protestors called for a full investigation into the case and for the police to arrest Zimmerman and hold him accountable for Martin’s death. In April of 2012, police arrested Zimmerman again and charged him with second-degree murder.

The criminal trial began on June 10, 2013, and a little over a month later, the jury found Zimmerman not guilty. While some wanted Zimmerman charged with a federal hate crime, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in February of 2015 that there simply was not enough evidence for a prosecution on this charge.


Many believed that Zimmerman’s actions betrayed racial motivations. After the trial, Zimmerman’s family came to his defense, arguing that Zimmerman was not racist, as he had black relatives. Zimmerman’s father said his son’s actions could not be racially motivated, as Zimmerman himself was Hispanic, grew up in a multiracial family, and, as such, would be the last person to discriminate against anyone. No one, from Zimmerman’s neighbors to his co-workers, had a bad thing to say about him.

Notably, in the years prior to and following the Martin case, Zimmerman had had several other run-ins with the law. In 2005, police arrested him for shoving an undercover officer, and his fiancée got a restraining order against him, claiming domestic violence. In the years following the case, police responded to several calls involving Zimmerman, including one in November of 2013, when his girlfriend claimed he pointed a shotgun at her. In 2016, Zimmerman allegedly yelled at a waitress and, according to the deputy who responded to the call, referred to her as a “n—er lover.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Jury – A group of people sworn to render a verdict in a trial, based on evidence presented.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to rule in a civil matter.