Do you understand Stand Your Ground laws? Are you sure?

The George Zimmerman trial brought considerable attention to "Stand Your Ground" laws in many states, even though Zimmerman did not use this in his defense. It also revealed the widespread misunderstanding about these laws.

On the anti-gun side of the issue, people seem to think that Stand Your Ground means you can pretty much shoot anyone and get away with it. On the pro-gun side of the issue, people seem to think that while it's not exactly a get-out-of-jail-free card, it radically changes self defense laws to favor the use of lethal force. Neither of these interpretations is accurate.

Stand Your Ground is really about eliminating the "duty to retreat," which is a provision of the law in various states.

In its most literal form, the duty to retreat means that a person who is under an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury must retreat from the threat as much as possible before responding with force in self defense.

Stand Your Ground laws are a revocation of the duty to retreat. These laws generally state that, under certain circumstances, individuals can use force, including deadly force, to defend themselves without first considering whether they can retreat from the danger. The purpose behind these laws is to remove any confusion about when individuals can defend themselves and to eliminate prosecutions of people who legitimately use self defense even though they do not attempt to retreat from the threat.

In many states, a claim of self defense under a Stand Your Ground law offers immunity from prosecution rather than an affirmative defense. This means that rather than presenting a self defense argument at an assault trial, for example, an individual could claim self defense under the state’s Stand Your Ground law and avoid trial altogether.

However, states with Stand Your Ground laws differ on whether the law applies to instances involving lethal force. Some states retain the duty to retreat when lethal force is involved, while others remove the duty to retreat under all circumstances.

There's another legal concept that adds to the confusion people have about Stand Your Ground and that is Castle Doctrine. Castle Doctrine laws are similar to Stand Your Ground laws, but differ in that they usually apply only to certain locations, such as your home, car, or office.

The political controversy over Stand Your Ground laws are blown out of proportion. Despite what many people claim, they do not encourage a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude, nor are they proven to result in more injuries and deaths. Once a victim believes he faces imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury, Stand Your Ground laws do no more than allow people to protect themselves without worrying about whether they have retreated sufficiently before using force.

Keep in mind that the laws on self defense vary from state to state. "Stand Your Ground" is a loose descriptive term and not a specific law. In fact, the words "Stand Your Ground" may not be found in the law at all.

To understand what Stand Your Ground means in your state, you should read the actual language of the law and consult with a criminal attorney in your area who has experience with self defense and use of force.