Misconceptions abound about the controversial Stand Your Ground law in Florida — and the national publicity surrounding the tragic Trayvon Martin case — have only confused matters further.
Stand Your Ground evolved out of the Castle Doctrine, which permits people to use deadly force to defend themselves against an assailant in their own home, with no obligation to try to escape first. Outside of their home, however, people were considered to have a duty to retreat from a confrontation before resorting to deadly force.
When Florida passed the Stand Your Ground law in 2005, it became the first state to legally eliminate the duty to retreat anywhere a person has a legal right to be, granting immunity from arrest to those who can reasonably claim they acted in self-defense. Although opponents of the law like to spin its support by the National Rifle Association as a negative, the intent was to help protect innocent victims, not to promote random acts of violence couched in claims of self-defense.
The key, as in so much of both statutory and case law, is the concept of reasonableness. By lifting a burden off those under attack, Stand Your Ground also placed on them a responsibility to choose their actions carefully — at least, as carefully as one can be expected to act in the face of an immediate threat. Retreat may no longer be a requirement, but it is still an option; only when you feel you have no other choice but to use force against an assailant should Stand Your Ground be your weapon of choice.