Black State Legislators Leading Charge to Curtail Dangerous Stand Your Ground Laws

NBCSL Committee of Jurisdiction: Law, Justice, and Ethics (LJE)
Related Resolution: LJE-13-06

LA Times Photo TMPhoto Credit: Los Angeles TimesThe death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his shooter, George Zimmerman, have shed light on select self-defense policies throughout the nation. Known as “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” laws, these policies expand the rights of individuals to guarantee their own safety with the use deadly force even when unnecessary. While many agree on the need for some form of self-defense laws, “Stand Your Ground”/”Shoot First” laws have shown to be counterproductive. In many instances, these laws have actually escalated violent encounters, and significant questions remain about whether these laws actually result in increased violent crime.

A 2012 Texas A&M University study found that states with “Stand Your Ground”/”Shoot First” laws have seen increased numbers of homicides and little decrease in burglary, robbery, or aggravated assaults. Additionally, there is evidence to indicate that “Stand Your Ground”/”Shoot First” cases are disproportionately weighed against both black victims and shooters. The Urban Institute analyzed racial disparities between states with “Stand Your Ground”/”Shoot First” laws and those without. The institute found that shooting incidents with a white shooter and black victims are more likely to be ruled justifiable in states with “Stand Your Ground”/”Shoot First” laws, than states without. The same report also found that among “Stand Your Ground”/”Shoot First” states, white-on-black shootings are disproportionally ruled justifiable.

In 2012, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) passed a resolution opposing "Stand Your Ground"/"Shoot First" laws and called on their repeal or reform. As these laws continue to disproportionately affect communities of color, NBCSL urges state legislators to take action.



State Action

Washington Post MapPhoto Credit: Washington PostIn 2005, Florida became the first state to pass a "Stand Your Ground"/"Shoot First" law. This law permitted an individual to use deadly force to “prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony” anywhere the individual had a legal right to be, even if he or she could safely retreat. Prior to ”Stand Your Ground”/“Shoot First,” Florida’s self-defense laws only permitted the use of deadly force as a last resort. More than 30 states followed suit by passing similar legislation from 2005-2012. These laws included removals  of “duty to retreat” requirements in self-defense statutes, limiting law enforcement from considering whether retreat was an option in self-defense incidents, and immunizing shooters who claim self-defense from civil liability.

Black Legislators Move to Repeal, Reform, or Dismiss Stand Your Ground
Over the past two years, Black legislators have introduced at least 17 laws in nine states against these laws.  Proposals include outright repeals and reforms to ensure that violent aggressors are not shielded by “Stand Your Ground”/“Shoot First” laws, as well as limiting such laws to the defense of one’s home.

Stand Your Ground Repeal/Reform Laws Introduced by NBCSL Members Since 2012

StatePrimary Sponsor(s)Bill Number (Year Introduced)Summary
Alabama Rep. Merika Coleman H.B. 212 (2013) Reform: Person who actively pursues an aggressor after the initial confrontation is not justified in using physical force in self defense or in defense of another.
Alabama Rep. Merika Coleman H.B. 694 (2012) Reform: The Trayvon Martin Act; Self Defense; person who actively pursues an aggressor after the initial confrontation is not justified in using physical force in self defense or in defense of another.
Florida Sen. Dwight Bullard S. 362 (2013) Reform: Requiring an overt act to support a belief that the use of deadly force for specified purposes is necessary; defining the term "unlawful activity" for specified purposes; providing that immunity from civil and criminal liability for certain uses of deadly force does not apply to injuries to children and bystanders who are not affiliated with the overt act, etc.
Florida Sen. Dwight Bullard S. 622 (2013) Repeal: Repealing provisions relating to home protection and the use of deadly force, which created a presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm in certain circumstances and provided that there is no duty to retreat and a person has the right to stand one's ground and meet force with force in certain circumstances, etc.
Florida Rep. Dwayne Taylor H. 799 (2013) Reform: Provides that provisions allowing a person to stand his or her ground and meet force with force in certain circumstances do not apply to person who initiates an altercation, progressively disrupts peace, or actively pursues another individual for any reason; provides investigatory and pretrial procedures when an individual claims benefits of stand your ground provisions in an incident in which death has occurred.
Florida Rep. Alan Williams H. 4009 (2013) Repeal: Repeals provisions relating to home protection and use of deadly force, which created presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm in certain circumstances and provided that there is no duty to retreat and has the right to stand one's ground and meet force with force in certain circumstances; conforms provisions.
Georgia Rep. Rashad Taylor & Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan H.B. 1308 (2012) Repeal: Statute relating to no duty to retreat prior to use of force and to correct a cross-reference; repeal
Louisiana Rep. Roy Burrell H.B. 1100 (2012) Reform: Provides that a finder of fact may consider pursuit in determining whether the pursuer is an aggressor.
Louisiana Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb S.B. 719 (2012) Reform: Provides that a homicide is not justified when the person committing the homicide initially incites the use of force against another with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon another or the intentional placing of another in reasonable apprehension of receiving great bodily harm.
Michigan Rep. Tim Bledsoe (retired)* H.B. 5644 2012 Repeal: Self-Defense Act; Right of self-defense under self-defense act; limit to that provided by common law.
Mississippi Rep. Deborah Dixon H.B. 1040 (2013) Reform: An act to remove the immunity of justifiable homicide provided to persons who commit the killing of an aggressor when that killing occurs outside of the dwelling; to define the term "immediate premise" for the purpose of determining whether criminal liability shall be attached to the killing; to require the drug testing of individuals provided protection of the castle doctrine at the time of investigation.
North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams H. 1192 (2012) Repeal: Amend Castle Doctrine/Repeal Stand Ground
North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams H. 976 (2013) Repeal: Gun Safety Act; includes repeal of Stand Your Ground, codifies common law regarding the use of force against an intruder.
South Carolina Sen. Robert Ford (retired) S. 1415 (2012) Reform: To amend section 16-11-440, code of laws of South Carolina, 1976, relating to the use of deadly force against another person who unlawfully enters a residence, occupied vehicle, or place of business, so as to delete the reference to the authorized use of deadly force in another location, including a place of business.
South Carolina Rep. Bakari Sellers H. 5072 (2012) Reform: To amend section 16-11-440, code of laws of South Carolina, 1976, relating to the use of deadly force against another person who unlawfully enters a residence, occupied vehicle, or place of business, so as to delete the reference to the authorized use of deadly force in another location, including a place of business.
Texas Rep. Garnet Coleman H.B. 3773 (2013) Reform: Relating to the use of deadly force in defense of a person or residence.
Texas Rep. Royce West S. 1349 (2013) Reform: Relating to the use of deadly force in defense of a person or residence.
*Rep. Bledsoe (MI) is not an NBCSL member, but the bill was cosponsored by NBCSL members Reps. Fred Durhal Jr., Maureen Stapelton, Thomas Stallworth, Alberta Tinsley, Woodrow Stanley, Lisa Howze, and Stacey Erwin Oakes.

Other NBCSL members have also indicated that they will pursue repeals and reforms when legislative sessions reconvene.  

Conclusion
Despite public outcry and some legislative action following Trayvon Martin’s death, there are indications that states may be again looking to further expand these contentious statutes. According to the Sunlight Foundation, lawmakers in Iowa and Ohio introduced expansions in 2013 modeled closely after the original Florida law. Additionally, similar expansions were proposed this year in states across the country, including Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, New Jersey, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

NBCSL members lead the fight in protecting the safety and well-being of all Americans. “Stand Your Ground”/“Shoot First” laws increasingly appear to be misguided, dangerous, and ineffective. We cannot wait until the next preventable incident to act. It is essential that state lawmakers work together to develop to responsible and effective self-defense laws. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, it is clear by the diverse legislation Black legislators have championed in their states, that a wide array of solutions do, indeed, exist.