What Are ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws, and When Do They Apply? (2023)


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The shootings of two people who mistakenly approached homes in Missouri and New York have renewed attention to self-defense laws across the country.

What Are ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws, and When Do They Apply? (1)

By Adeel Hassan

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The shooting of a teenager in Kansas City, Mo., and the killing of a woman in upstate New York in recent days have brought renewed attention to the legal protections offered to people who say they acted in self-defense or out of fear for their safety.

In Kansas City, a Black teenager was shot last Thursday when he mistakenly went to the wrong house to pick up his younger brothers. The 84-year-old white man who shot the teenager through his front door has been charged with first-degree assault; he told investigators that he thought someone was breaking into his house.

In New York, a 20-year-old woman looking for a friend’s house was fatally shot on Monday after the car in which she was riding went to the wrong address. The homeowner there fired shots and killed her, the authorities say; he has been charged with second-degree murder.

Missouri is one of about 30 states with a “stand your ground” law. New York is not, but defendants there and elsewhere can argue that their actions are protected by what is known as the “castle doctrine.”

Here is a guide to understanding those laws and legal principles.

What are ‘stand your ground’ laws?

In the United States, there has been a tendency over the years for legislatures and the courts to expand the right to claim self-defense to justify use of force, rather than to protect those who may be harmed by misjudgments and mistakes.

The common-law “castle doctrine,” established through centuries of precedent, is rooted in the idea that a person’s home is their castle, and that they have a right to protect themselves while they are in it.

Castle doctrine laws — sometimes known as “make my day” laws — give people in their own homes the legal presumption of self-defense if they harm an intruder.

“Stand your ground” laws go further. They apply anyplace where a person has a legal right to be, not just at home, and they erode the longstanding “duty to retreat,” a mainstay of classic self-defense legal theory that says deadly force is justified only as a last resort, when retreat is impossible.

For example, Florida’s law states that “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

That law gained wider attention in 2012, when the police in Sanford, Fla., cited it as the reason they declined to arrest George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who killed an unarmed Black teenager, Trayvon Martin. Mr. Zimmerman was later charged and acquitted.

Missouri, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania are among the states with “stand your ground” laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most such laws have been enacted in the last 25 years.

How might the laws apply in the Missouri and New York cases?

The prosecutor in Kansas City has said that he believes the shooting of the teenager, Ralph Yarl, 16, was not in self-defense.

S. David Mitchell, a law professor at the University of Missouri, said that a defense lawyer could try to invoke the castle doctrine, though it usually applies only when an intruder has entered the home. The front porch, Mr. Mitchell said, “becomes the gray area of what constitutes one’s castle,” a question that a jury could consider.

Though “stand your ground” laws do not require a person to retreat, they do not provide a blanket defense for shooting at anyone who approaches you. Mr. Mitchell said there would also have to be an assessment of whether the shooter had a “reasonable fear” of being harmed.


“There’s one key thing that is missing here,” he said, referring to the shooting in Kansas City. “There is no indication of reasonable fear that I’ve seen from any of the reports.”

Under New York’s castle doctrine, people have a right to protect their homes with deadly force if they reasonably believe that someone is entering without permission and is seeking to commit a crime.

But the sheriff in Washington County, where the wrong-address shooting took place on Monday, said he believed there was no reason for the suspect, Kevin Monahan, 65, to have felt threatened when he stepped out of his house and killed Kaylin Gillis, 20.

Why do states say they need ‘stand your ground’ laws?

Proponents argue that the laws allow citizens to keep themselves safe, and even that the laws deter crime, though there is no evidence of that.

Missouri was the first state to pass a “stand your ground” law after the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

The Republican-controlled Missouri General Assembly overrode the veto of Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, in 2016 to approve the legislation, which allows individuals to use force in self-defense without retreating in any location where they have the right to be. Instead of providing the right only in the home, the law created a sort of mobile self-protective bubble, said Mr. Mitchell, the law professor.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia, Mo. “You’re going to do whatever you need to do if your safety is in jeopardy,” Mr. Schaefer said in 2016. “The question is, what happens in the lawsuit after that? Are you going to be faced with liability after that?”

What do opponents of the laws say?

Critics say the laws make it too easy to claim self-defense when violence could have been avoided. For criminal trials in which a defendant claims self-defense, the law puts the burden on prosecutors to try to discredit those claims.

According to some analyses, there are substantial racial disparities in rulings of justifiable homicide under the laws.

Opponents also say the laws promote violence and weaken police powers. There is moderate evidence that the laws may increase total homicide rates, according to a review of data by the RAND Corporation.

What are some noted cases in which defendants have argued they acted in self-defense?

The 2013 trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman put “stand your ground” laws in the national spotlight. In finding him not guilty of murder or manslaughter, the trial jury agreed that Mr. Zimmerman could have been justified in shooting Mr. Martin because he feared great bodily harm or death.


In 2021, Kyle Rittenhouse claimed that he had acted in self-defense when he shot three men, killing two, during unrest following the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., in August 2020. The onus was on the prosecution to prove otherwise, and he was found not guilty. That case highlighted for many Americans the wide berth given to defendants who say they have acted out of fear.

This month in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said that he would grant a pardon to an Army sergeant who was convicted of fatally shooting a protester during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in 2020. Mr. Abbott, a Republican, cited the state’s strong “stand your ground” law as the basis for his decision.

Adeel Hassan is a reporter and editor on the National Desk. He is a founding member of Race/Related, and much of his work focuses on identity and discrimination. He started the Morning Briefing for NYT Now and was its inaugural writer. He also served as an editor on the International Desk. @adeelnyt

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What Are ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws, and When Do They Apply? ›

Stand Your Ground laws have fundamentally dismantled the standards of self-defense. They allow anyone who believes their life to be in danger to use lethal force in an act of self-defense, completely removing the duty to retreat in a public space.

What does stand your ground rule mean? ›

Stand Your Ground laws have fundamentally dismantled the standards of self-defense. They allow anyone who believes their life to be in danger to use lethal force in an act of self-defense, completely removing the duty to retreat in a public space.

What states allow deadly force to protect property? ›

Several states in the United States have adopted the castle doctrine, including California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

What the difference between Castle Law and stand your ground? ›

Defending your home and your vehicle is referred to as the Castle Doctrine, while defending yourself is referred to as standing your ground.

Can you use deadly force to protect property in Oklahoma? ›

Lethal force is only allowable to protect personal safety under the threat of great bodily injury or death—never for the protection of property. If the threat has been neutralized or the threat is attempting to flee, lethal force is not legally justified.

What are examples of ground rule? ›

Ground Rules: Examples & Resources
  • Listen actively to each speaker.
  • Avoid interrupting.
  • Connect your comments to the conversation.
  • Learn your classmates' names.
  • Be respectful of other people's opinions, even if they are different from yours.
  • Try to keep an open mind.

What is the stand your ground exception? ›

Stand your ground only applies when the person using deadly force is in a place he or she is legally allowed to be and is not in the process of committing a crime. Thus, this is not a defense when someone harms another person while trespassing, breaking and entering, or committing any other crime.

What state has the strongest gun control laws? ›

California and New Jersey are the states that have the strictest gun laws in the nation, scoring both A on the Giffords gun law scorecard. California requires a 10-day waiting period for all gun purchases, as well as a thorough background check for all gun purchasers.

What is the legal defense that can be used in most states? ›

What is the legal defense that can be used in most states in which proportionate damages may be awarded when both the plaintiff and defendant were negligent? correct! Comparative negligence is the apportionment of damages when both the plaintiff and the defendant are at fault.

Do states have a duty to protect? ›

In the United States, state governments have both a constitutional and an ethical duty to protect the health and safety of their citizens.

What is the American Castle law? ›

The common law principle of “castle doctrine” says that individuals have the right to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect themselves against an intruder in their home. This principle has been codified and expanded by state legislatures.

What is an example of duty to retreat? ›

For example, if Ben pulled his knife on Joseph, who pulled his gun, this law would require Joseph to retreat if he could, but only if doing so wouldn't be dangerous to him. If Joseph was backed up to a busy highway, or a cliff, then retreat is not an option.

Is Texas stand your ground? ›

Texas Law. Texas has a stand your ground law which removes the duty to retreat before using deadly force if the person is in a place they have a right to be, is not engaged in criminal activity, and has not provoked his or her assailant.

Can you point a gun at a trespasser in Oklahoma? ›

In Oklahoma, allowing force in self-defense is taken a step further than in many other states: Oklahoma law allows a person the right to use deadly force against an intruder in his or her home, place of work, and even a personal vehicle.

Can I shoot in my backyard in Oklahoma? ›

The state allows any private landowner, the landowner's designated employee, or a lessee to possess a chamber-loaded firearm on the landowner's property, provided that no person who has been convicted of a felony carries it.

Does Oklahoma have make my day law? ›

Make My Day Doctrine

2d 32. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma held that a person who is legally in the dwelling of another is justified in using any degree of physical force, including deadly force, against another person who has made an unlawful entry onto that dwelling.

What are normal ground rules? ›

Ground rules are guidelines that participants in a meeting agree to follow in order to make the meeting more productive and enjoyable. Common ground rules include things like being respectful of other participants, not interrupting, and staying on topic. The term originally comes from baseball.

What are unwritten ground rules? ›

Unwritten Ground Rules - or UGRs - is a term coined by researcher Steve Simpson, to explain why employees often don't follow formal rules. UGRs are defined as employee's perceptions of the 'way we do things around here,' and are a more powerful force than the stated values of a business in determining culture.

What are legal ground rules? ›

Basic agreed-to constraints and allowances in a negotiation or competition. Governs the process, conduct, and scope leading to procedures and limits.

What is the defense of property in Oklahoma? ›

To have a Defense of Property in Oklahoma, a person is justified in using force in defense of another if that person reasonably believed that use of force was necessary to protect another from imminent danger of bodily harm.

What self-defense weapons are legal in Oklahoma? ›

Section 1272 only bans the carry of a pistol, revolver, shotgun, or rifle, loaded or unloaded, or any blackjack, loaded cane, hand chain, metal knuckles, or any other offensive weapon, concealed or unconcealed. Thus, pepper spray, stun guns, and normal canes are legal to carry.

When was the stand your ground law created? ›

Florida was the first state to fully enact a "stand your ground" law in 2005, which allows people to use force — including deadly force — from any location if they felt their lives were in danger. Under earlier self-defense laws, people could reasonably defend themselves within their homes.

What state has the freest gun laws? ›

The states with the most lenient gun laws are New Hampshire, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Texas, Montana, West Virginia, Alabama, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alaska, Kansas, South Dakota, Arizona, Kentucky, Missouri, Idaho, Wyoming, and Mississippi.

What state has the least gun crime? ›

States With The Lowest Gun Death Rates
  • 🔵Massachusetts has a firearm mortality rate of 3.4 and voted for Biden.
  • 🔵Hawaii has a firearm mortality rate of 4.8 and voted for Biden.
  • 🔵New Jersey has a firearm mortality rate of 5.2 and voted for Biden.
  • 🔵New York has a firearm mortality rate of 5.4 and voted for Biden.
Apr 28, 2023

What state has the lowest gun crime rate? ›

The state with the lowest gun death rate in the nation was Massachusetts, followed by Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. The state with the highest gun death rate in 2021 was Mississippi, followed by Louisiana, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Alabama.

What is the weakest defense in law? ›

1. EVIDENCE; ALIBI AS A DEFENSE; DEGREE OF ORAL PROOF. — Alibi is the weakest defense that an accused can avail of, and oral proof thereof must be clearly and satisfactorily established because it is so easily manufactured and usually so unreliable that it cannot be given credit.

What self-defense weapons are legal in all 50 states? ›

Five legal self-defense weapons in California are:
  • pepper spray,
  • stun guns or tasers,
  • certain knives (such as a pocketknife or non-switchblade folding knife),
  • personal alarms, and.
  • certain guns (such as handguns or shotguns).
May 31, 2023

What is an example of failure of proof defense? ›

A failure-of-proof defense is when a party argues that the other party has not provided enough evidence to prove an essential fact in their claim or defense. For example, in a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.

Do cops have no duty to protect you? ›

The U.S. Supreme Court has also ruled that police have no specific obligation to protect. In its 1989 decision in DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, the justices ruled that a social services department had no duty to protect a young boy from his abusive father.

Can the U.S. government refuse to protect a state from invasion? ›

Section 4. The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

Do I have a duty to warn? ›

No duty to warn/protect exists unless the patient has communicated an actual threat of physical violence against a clearly or reasonably identified victim or if they have communicated a specific violent act.

What is the retreat rule? ›

A duty to retreat, in its most extreme form, states that a person who is under an imminent threat of personal harm must make a reasonable effort to avoid confrontation, either by de-escalation or an attempt to leave the area in which the threat is occurring.

Can you stay in a castle in the US? ›

Highlands Castle

Stay from $600 per room, per night (room only). Highlands Castle is located in Bolton Landing in upstate New York, offering views of Lake George and the Adirondack Mountains. Accommodation includes a seating area and, in some cases, a dining area, terrace and kitchen.

What is the choice of evils? ›

The choice of evils defense (called the necessity defense in some jurisdictions) protects a defendant from criminal responsibility when the defendant commits a crime to avoid a greater, imminent harm.

What is the opposite of stand your ground? ›

The alternative to stand your ground is "duty to retreat". In jurisdictions that implement a duty to retreat, even a person who is unlawfully attacked (or who is defending someone who is unlawfully attacked) may not use deadly force if it is possible to instead avoid the danger with complete safety by retreating.

What are examples of duty to act? ›

Examples include:
  • A doctor's duty to care for patients.
  • An owners' duty to protect those who are invited upon his land.
  • A restaurateur's duty to provide proper fire escapes for patrons.
  • Parent's duty to act affirmatively to safeguard his children and safeguard third persons from his children.
May 15, 2018

What is the retreat to the wall rule? ›

Generally, individuals using deadly force against their attackers cannot do so until they “retreat to the wall”—until they do everything possible to safely escape the attack and avoid taking a human life. It is then, and only then, that they are justified in using deadly force against their aggressor.

Is it illegal to walk around without a shirt in Texas? ›

Going clothes-free in public is a quick way to get slapped with an indecent exposure charge. Adults simply walking around nude in Texas are considered to be committing indecent exposure in most cases. Texas law says the crime consists of exposing any part of one's genitals or anus to another in order to arouse them.

Can I put a fence in my front yard Texas? ›

Homeowners associations (HOAs) can no longer deny building a fence for security. According to a state law passed on Texas HOA fence rules in 2021, homeowners anywhere in the state are allowed to put up a perimeter fence for added security along the front, sides and/or back of their property.

Is Texas a fence in state? ›

Most Texans are quick to note that Texas is an “open range” or a “fence out” state, meaning that a livestock owner does not have a legal duty to prevent animals from getting onto the roadway.

Can you physically remove someone from your property in Oklahoma? ›

It is settled in Oklahoma that an individual may resist a trespass upon real property in his possession, and may eject the trespasser by use of any reasonable force. So long as the trespasser does not commit or attempt a felony, force is reasonable only where it does not take or endanger human life.

Can you walk around with a rifle in Oklahoma? ›

Oklahoma now generally authorizes any person aged 21 or older who is not disqualified from possessing firearms under state or federal law, to carry loaded firearms in most public spaces, including both concealed and openly carried firearms, provided they are not doing so in furtherance of a crime.

Can you own brass knuckles in Oklahoma? ›

The 21 states where brass knuckles are illegal are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington.

Can I carry a loaded gun in my car in Oklahoma? ›

Oklahoma law generally authorizes a person who is not otherwise legally prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms to transport both loaded and unloaded firearms “in or on a vehicle,” provided they are not carrying or transporting the firearm in furtherance of a crime.

Can you conceal carry in Oklahoma without a license? ›

As a result, Oklahoma law now generally authorizes any person who may legally purchase and possess a firearm and who is at least 21 years of age to carry loaded firearms in public, openly or concealed, without a license,1 subject to the same location restrictions as people carrying with a license.

Where can you not carry a gun in Oklahoma? ›

Oklahoma law prohibits carrying handguns in in the following places:
  • Schools.
  • Bars.
  • Courthouses.
  • Jails and prisons.
  • Government buildings.
  • Offices used for public business.
  • Colleges, universities, or technology center schools.
  • Publicly owned sports venues during pro games.
Mar 8, 2022

What are the 85% laws in Oklahoma? ›

Currently, Oklahoma's “85% Law” focuses on sexual and violent crimes, with perpetrators required to serve at least 85% of their sentences before the possibility of parole. The bill is a response to the early release of Ronnie Busick, 71.

What is the Sunshine law in Oklahoma? ›

The Oklahoma open meetings and open records act help make the work of the state transparent. The purpose of the act is to ensure and facilitate the public's right of access to and review of government records so they may efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power.

Is it a law to take a lunch break in Oklahoma? ›

Are breaks and lunch periods mandatory? Neither federal nor state law requires employers to provide breaks to employees that are 16 or older. Oklahoma Child Labor Laws require mandatory break and lunch periods for 14 and 15-year-old workers.

Why do people set ground rules? ›

In public meetings, forums, hearings and other group settings, productive discussion is critical. Ground rules help a group start and maintain a productive discussion. Ground rules clarify expectations for behavior in the meeting.

What does stand to one's ground mean? ›

(idiomatic) To maintain or stick by an opinion or position; to remain resolute in the face of opposition.

What does stand your ground mean in Florida? ›

Florida's “Stand-Your-Ground” law was passed in 2005. The law allows those who feel a reasonable threat of death or bodily injury to “meet force with force” rather than retreat. Similar “Castle Doctrine” laws assert that a person does not need to retreat if their home is attacked.

What does stand your ground mean in Texas? ›

Texas Law. Texas has a stand your ground law which removes the duty to retreat before using deadly force if the person is in a place they have a right to be, is not engaged in criminal activity, and has not provoked his or her assailant.

Whose responsibility is it to enforce ground rules? ›

Ground rules aid in cooperation and help bring the team together. Ground rules, along with any other group agreements, must be made easily available to all group members. All project team members share responsibility for enforcing the rules once they are established.

How do you establish ground rules? ›

Ground rules should be established at the beginning of a course, and the instructor should explain the purpose they serve (for example, to ensure that discussions are spirited and passionate without descending into argumentation, to ensure that everyone is heard, to ensure that participants work together toward greater ...

What do you call someone who can stand their ground? ›

adamant. adamantine. determined. dogged. dyed-in-the-wool.

What does it mean when someone says keep your feet on the ground? ›

: to be a sensible and practical person. Even after she became famous, she always kept her feet on the ground.

Can you use force to defend property in Florida? ›

Use Of Force To Protect Property

Under Florida law, “defense of property” is an affirmative defense that justifies the use of non-deadly force to protect a person's land, home, vehicle, or other personal property. Florida does not recognize a right to use deadly force in the protection of property interests alone.

What is the law on trespassers in Florida? ›

Chapter 810.08(2) states that any person who trespasses on private property will be charged with a 2nd-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a 60-day prison sentence and/or a fine that does not exceed $500.

Is it illegal to keep money you find on the ground in Florida? ›

Florida law states that if find lost or abandoned property and take it for yourself, you could face criminal charges, fines and jail time: If you take a low-value item (worth less than $300), you could face a petit theft charge—the penalty for which is 6–12 months in jail and $500–$1,000 in fines.

Can you physically remove someone from your property in Texas? ›

Texas law states that property owners are able to use force to terminate trespassing or theft if they deem it necessary; however, force and deadly force are two different actions. Shooting the trespasser is considered deadly force since the bullet can easily end the person's life.

Can you conceal carry in Texas without a permit? ›

Beginning September 1, 2021, HB1927 made it legal in Texas for most people 21 or over to carry a handgun in a holster without a permit both openly and/or concealed. This law modified the previous open carry law from 2016 by eliminating the requirement to have a license to carry.

Is NY a stand your ground state? ›

New York does not have a stand your ground law. State law explicitly imposes a duty to retreat before resorting to deadly force outside the home.

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