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Standing Your Ground Is A Constitutional Right 

person dressed in black pointing gun at innocent bystander
Image CreditKHOU 11/YouTube

‘Duty to retreat’ laws cost precious seconds but also further embolden violent criminals, potentially endangering additional lives.  

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There’s a problem in our society when people face prosecution for defending themselves in public, and when a major network props up an anti-gun activist on Sunday morning television to ridicule the basic right to self-defense with lies and rhetoric, the underlying issue and our rights at large as Americans face even greater peril. 

Unfortunately, that scenario is exactly what America got this past weekend when ABC’s Martha Raddatz held a discussion with a Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence attorney on “stand your ground” laws, in which the so-called expert blatantly lied on the air claiming these statutes and precedents “upend centuries of common law on self-defense and allow people to carry guns outside of the home…” This is utter nonsense.  

Instead, while she briefly alluded to it on air, this so-called “expert on state gun laws” clearly is a supporter of the ludicrous “duty to retreat” laws that many leftist states still maintain. Despite the recent reinforcement of the inherent right to self-defense in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, these statutes, as their names suggest, require citizens, when faced with a seemingly life-threatening situation, to determine whether they can refrain from the use of deadly force by essentially running away. Further, a citizen who uses deadly force — even when threatened — could lose a claim to self-defense and potentially be charged with a crime, up to and including homicide, if it’s determined that a “retreat” should have been made.  

In a constitutional republic that reveres and is structured to safeguard innate freedoms, including the right to self-defense, it is an abomination that a law-abiding citizen should be required to exhaust virtually all other options before defending himself. “Duty to retreat” not only costs precious seconds, but it also further emboldens violent criminals and can endanger additional lives.  

An analysis of state statutes and case law reveals that, when discussing the defense of oneself inside the home, some variety of “castle doctrine” can almost always be claimed. This concept requires no duty to retreat, as it reaffirms that one’s home is his castle, and a person need not retreat to the furthest wall before defending self and family.  

In public spaces, however, castle doctrine does not apply. Fortunately, most states have either judicially recognized or statutorily codified a legal doctrine known as “stand your ground.” This doctrine posits that citizens in public spaces are not required to assess whether they can make a safe retreat before employing deadly force in self-defense. Keep in mind that, in all situations, self-defense must always be measured and justified. Stand your ground is not a general license to use deadly force in public. A citizen must reasonably fear imminent death or great bodily injury.  

Twelve states still treat the right to self-defense with more skepticism merely if it occurs outside on the street rather than in one’s own home. This is a serious matter, and quite possibly the next major Second Amendment question the Supreme Court will address. Gun Owners of America and the Gun Owners Foundation both contend that historical context and Supreme Court precedent are overwhelmingly on their side, which suggests an imminent end to “duty to retreat” mandates. 

First, the Second Amendment’s protections predate even the Bill of Rights. The moral basis for its provisions were drawn from the biblical right to defend oneself and others against harm. This principle was increasingly recognized and applied in England in the 18th century. For example, Sir William Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England,” first published in 1765, plainly explained that, when one is “forcibly attacked in his person or property, it is lawful for him to repel force by force.”   

Moreover, the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller clearly affirmed the centrality of the “inherent” right of self-defense to the Second Amendment. Two years later, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court further elaborated that “[s]elf-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day, and … individual self-defense is ‘the central component’ of the Second Amendment right.” Bruen bolstered this holding and expanded its scope by cementing the right of citizens to carry arms for self-defense in public, as “confrontation can surely take place outside the home.” 

Additionally, while Heller, McDonald, and Bruen mark the beginnings of a modern renaissance in self-defense rights, one of the most compelling arguments for a constitutional right to stand one’s ground is found in a case from 1895. In Beard v. United States, the Supreme Court reversed a manslaughter conviction resulting from a confrontation that took place on the defendant’s property in Arkansas. The court took issue with one of the trial court’s jury instructions, which had provided “that if the accused could have saved his own life and avoided taking the life of [the decedent] by retreating from and getting out of the way of the latter as he advanced upon him, the law made it his duty to do so; and if he did not, when it was in his power to do so without putting his own life or body in imminent peril, he was guilty of manslaughter.”   

Here the Supreme Court rejected that notion because the defendant had been in a place “where he had a right to be.” The justices explained that the proper “question for the jury was whether, without fleeing from his adversary,” the defendant was otherwise justified in using deadly force in self-defense. Regarding the duty to retreat in this case, the court put it simply: “We cannot give our assent to this doctrine.”  

Here, by rejecting the imposition of a “duty to retreat” and focusing on the fact that the “defendant was where he had the right to be,” the court created a broad precedent acknowledging the right to stand your ground. They supplemented the concept with evidence from a multijurisdictional survey of self-defense law, reviewing precedents from state supreme courts in Ohio and Indiana, and treatises on both English and American common law.  

It’s a disgrace that a bodega worker or Kyle Rittenhouse faced aggressive prosecution merely for defending themselves in public because of “duty to retreat” statutes. Shame on Martha Raddatz for failing to call out the complete and utter lies from the Giffords anti-gun activist. Allowing her to present a completely false historical analysis of the inherent right to self-defense on a national stage was gross malpractice.  

With the recent resurgence in federal protections for Second Amendment rights, it’s high time to underscore that there is indeed a constitutional right to stand one’s ground — a protection that applies to situations in one’s home and in public.  


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