What Are Stand Your Ground Laws?

Amber Guyger, George Zimmerman, and Michael Dunn all gunned down unarmed black men — and they all cited Stand Your Ground laws in their legal defense. Here's what you need to know about the controversial laws.

Using deadly force

What do George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn & Amber Guyger have in common? They all “Stood Their Ground.” Stand Your Ground laws, such as Texas’ Castle Doctrine, say a person may use deadly force in the protection of a home, vehicle, and property if someone attempts to forcibly enter. Across the U.S., self-defense is generally legal when retreat is no longer possible. But Stand Your Ground laws are now legal in 26 states since 2005. In Florida, Michael Dunn’s lawyer Cited Stand Your Ground laws in his defense after Dunn shot at 4 teens amid an argument about the volume of music in their car.

He was eventually convicted of first-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. George Zimmerman was also acquitted with a similar defense for his 2012 killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. In 2019, former cop Amber Guyger was convicted of the murder of her neighbor Botham Jean after mistaking his apartment for her own. The judge had ruled the Castle Doctrine was applicable to the case. Stand Your Ground laws have also been seen to cause an uptick in homicides — at least 30 people are killed per month nationwide as a result of these laws. Critics also say the law makes racial bias legal — white shooters of black victims are deemed 11x more justifiable than when the shooter is black, and victim is white based on data from the NPO Everytown.

It's important to understand that even states that have stand your ground laws still have certain restrictions when it comes to using force in self-defense. For example, they may require that the threat of perceived harm be objectively reasonable and that the force used be proportional to the threat. Stand your ground laws may also require that the person using self-defense be at the location lawfully (not trespassing, for example) and not be the initial aggressor in the altercation.