Do You Have a ‘Duty to Retreat’ in Public Places in Your State?

Authors Columns Concealed Carry/EDC Jordan Michaels
Do You Have a 'Duty to Retreat' in Public Places in Your State?

(Photo: Jordan Michaels)

With Iowa set to become (by my count) the twenty-sixth state to pass a “stand your ground” law, the self-defense community in this country has nearly gained a clear majority. If you add the eight states that have “stand your ground” precedents in their case law, it’s more than likely that you live in a state that legally protects you if you choose to fight rather than run in a life-threatening situation.

But what about the remaining 16 states? What happens if you live in a “duty to retreat” state and you shoot an attacker who you believe wants to take your life or cause you serious bodily injury?

In that case, you have to prove that 1) your life was actually in danger and 2) that you could not safely retreat. You must show that force was the last available option because there was nowhere to run or to hide.

You can see how such a high standard of proof can expose attack victims to both criminal and civil litigation. When faced with a life or death situation, a person cannot always choose whether they will respond with “fight” or “flight.” Without a “stand your ground” law in the books, a victim’s natural self-defense reaction could land him or her in jail for a long time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s define some terms.

Generally speaking, a “stand your ground” law enables a person to match force with force in a public life-threatening situation as long as that person is legally allowed to be in that public place. There is no duty to retreat. Even if a person could safely move out of the area and avoid the confrontation, they do not have a legal obligation to do so.

It’s important to understand that this protection only applies when the victim reasonably believes himself to be in danger of death or serious bodily injury. Stand your ground laws, contrary to the anti-gun media, are not “shoot first” laws. You cannot kill a person just because they yell at you or insult your mom—you have to reasonably believe yourself to be in danger of death, rape, assault, etc.

Also keep in mind that “stand your ground” laws are distinct from “castle doctrine” laws. The castle doctrine legally protects a person if they injure or kill a home intruder. Few (if any) states require you to retreat from your own home before matching force with force.

States with explicit “stand your ground” laws: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa (pending, likely to pass), Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

States that include “stand your ground”-like precedents in their case law: California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.

(Note: State laws are almost impossible to aggregate with 100 percent accuracy. If I missed a state or mislabeled a state, leave a comment. Also, this article does not constitute legal advice. If you aren’t sure what the law is in your state, Google “[your state] justifiable homicide” or “[your state] stand your ground law.” Poke around until you find that actual statue on an official government website.)

In “duty to retreat” states, the victim of an attack must first determine whether or not there is a safe avenue of retreat before matching force with force. Here’s an example. Article 35 of New York’s Penal Code says that an “actor may not use deadly physical force if he or she knows that with complete personal safety, to oneself and others he or she may avoid the necessity of so doing by retreating.” The law makes exceptions if the person is either a) in his or her residence and not the initial aggressor or b) a police officer or someone assisting a police officer.

So, under New York law, if a person comes at you with a knife in an alley, you may not be allowed to shoot that person if you can turn around and run away. But if that person has a gun, you would probably be justified in killing your attacker (good luck with that) because you cannot retreat with “complete personal safety.”

Arkansas state law (surprisingly) includes almost identical language. According to §5-2-607, a person “may not use deadly physical force in self-defense if the person knows that he or she can avoid the necessity of using deadly physical force by retreating.” Exceptions are made, again, if the victim cannot retreat with “complete safety,” if the victim is in his or her residence (and not the initial aggressor), or if the victim is a police officer or assisting a police officer.

Many “duty to retreat” states include similar language and exceptions.

States with a “duty to retreat”: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nebraska, North Dakota*, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin*, and Wyoming.

*Duty to retreat does not apply in vehicles.

Stand your ground provisions are actually relatively new in the United States. The law has always recognized the right to self-defense in life-threatening situations, but until 2005 many states still required victims to retreat in public settings if they could do so safely.

In the 1980s a handful of states passed castle doctrine-like laws (nicknamed “make my day laws,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures) that provided protections for people who defended their homes against unlawful intruders.

In 2005 Florida extended the castle doctrine to public places where a person is legally allowed to be. Since then, 24 additional states have included such language in their statutes (Utah passed the first “stand your ground” provision in 1994).

If you live in one of the 16 states that have yet to pass a “stand your ground” law, you need to be especially wary of inserting yourself into dangerous situations. The law does not protect you unless you have nowhere to run or hide and you reasonably believe your life is in danger. If you’re attacked without warning, you have to do your best to keep a cool head and evaluate all potential avenues of escape.

In the meantime, call your state legislators. The last several election cycles have seen huge gains for the pro-gun community at the state level. It’s never been a better time to make the necessary changes to ensure that your right to self-defense is protected—in every situation.


About the Author: Jordan Michaels is a new convert to the gun world. A Canadian immigrant to the United States, he recently became an American citizen and is happily enjoying his newly-acquired Second Amendment freedoms. He’s a communications professional, a political junkie, and an avid basketball fan.

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  • Eddie Garcia February 7, 2018, 10:36 am

    There is no duty to retreat in Vermont.

    “The instruction for self-defense, and defense of another, CR07-121, derives from the trial court’s instructions in State v. Verrinder, 161 Vt. 250 (1993). However, these instructions have been shortened significantly. One of the changes is to eliminate an instruction on duty to retreat. In State v. Hatcher, 167 Vt. 338 (1997), the trial court instructed the jury that if the defendant honestly and reasonably believed “it was immediately necessary to use deadly force to protect himself from an imminent threat of death or bodily injury, the law does not require him to retreat.” Id. at 348.”

  • Allan Baver April 10, 2017, 2:03 pm

    I have been a Pistol and Revolver Instructor since 1979.
    Additionally, I was a Graduate of the Police Academy in CT where my time served was starting as an Auxiliary Police Officer,
    Supernumerary Police Officer and Full Time Police Officer.
    I would like to say, I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.
    I am a Permit Holder in CT and I have since moved to ME, where they no longer have permits!!! 🙂
    After all, does the permit give you the right to use “Deadly Force”. ANSWER: NO
    It’s the idiot attacking you, by his/her words, actions and representation that he/she will be using “Deadly Force” against you or a third person, you may use “Deadly Force” or equal force to thwart or stop such crime of violence.

  • joe April 8, 2017, 2:49 pm

    so you should run, rather than protect your family and home. leave it in the hands of law enforcement who will do nothing rather than write a report. I am an American and these colors don’t run!

    • Leah N. August 5, 2017, 4:00 am

      Does it really matter whether the state we live in has these laws or not? You can be a permit holder and not a mark on your record and if you protect your home under either of these a trial will play out a lot different than say, someone a little lower in class. I’m not a permit holder, not a criminal but will defend my home and family if I am fearful and feel threatened in my home. I bet my trial wouldn’t be as smooth sailing with my public defender representing me. One warning shot, when needed but I’m not going to retreat elsewhere other than my own castle.

  • Bob April 7, 2017, 7:36 pm

    We do until our governor signs the bill establishing Stand Your Ground. Unfortunately, some of our gutless legislators, and one of our lobbying groups managed to let the grabbers pull constitutional carry out of the legislation. Then they tell is the “battle” for constitutional carry starts the day after the governor signs the the S.Y.G. into law.

  • Harry Marker April 7, 2017, 5:51 pm

    That is the problem. People all around the country have just “ACCEPTED” that they cant do anything. Get everyone together that want the gun laws to follow the 2nd ammendment the way it is supposed to. If the local sherrif, judge, mayor, or council members deny your rights, RECALL them, and vote in someone who is a follower of the constitution.

    • Leah N. August 5, 2017, 4:01 am

      Here, Here.

  • Greg Morden April 7, 2017, 4:36 pm

    Hello, in the “Stand your Ground” article, I’d like to ask,” what if the victim happens to be disabled & cant turn and run, what happens then? The Crook has a Knife or gun, coming at the victim!

    • loupgarous April 7, 2017, 7:30 pm

      A physically disabled person – one with restricted mobility, on crutches or cane, or on an electric scooter – cannot retreat from an encounter with an armed assailant with “complete safety”. (I’m not an attorney, please consult an attorney or a police officer where you live about specific application of the law there.

      I’ve always lived in states that recognized “stand your ground” rights or which extended “castle doctrine” to one’s car (as part of one’s legal domicile). I can not imagine being required to consider retreating from someone who was placing my life or that of loved ones or friends in plausible danger.

      That said, I now have a short list of places I don’t ever intend to visit if I can avoid it. I’m puzzled that Wyoming’s guzzling the “duty to retreat” Kool-Aid®, the people I’ve met from there seem so sane…..

    • Jonny5 April 16, 2017, 4:52 am

      What if the victim is disabled or has mobility issues (on foot only) but is riding a very fast mobility scooter which will allow him/her/them to extract speedily and safely? What if the batteries on said scooter are flat on that occasion and they can’t escape? Would the victim have to prove the batteries were indeed flat at the material time, rendering said transport unusable?! Please direct any further stupid questions to our “Hard of Thinking” specialist, Greg Morden.

  • jim April 7, 2017, 3:21 pm

    The NY statute is quite broad in it’s permission in that “if he or she knows that with complete personal safety, to oneself and others he or she may avoid the necessity of so doing by retreating” is the language. KNOWING that you can retreat with COMPLETE personal safety is basically impossible under most circumstances. Unfortunately in many jurisdictions you will almost certainly be arrested and then allowed to subsequently present your affirmative defense to the GI or at trail.

  • Ric Min April 7, 2017, 2:31 pm

    In Commierado, you had better retreat asap! If you “continue to defend” yourself against an attacker, you WILL be charged. That is exactly what happened to two friends that fought 5 illegals who attacked them. Because they did a through whipping of the 5 illegals that attacked them and didn’t retreat, they were charged with felonies by the Denver (amnesty city). They were so very close to going to prison and escaped with probation all because they did NOT retreat when they had an opportunity AFTER they were attacked!

    • loupgarous April 7, 2017, 7:39 pm

      I used to live in Denver, and their DA’s office apparently thinks the city and county of Denver have seceded from Colorado. It is as you say, and while to my knowledge the “make my day” law has never been repealed there, an elderly man who shot an intruder in his home had to worry for six weeks about prosecution, during which time he and his home were photographed on local TV and his home address broadcast for the convenience of friends or family of the intruder who wanted payback. Lived there 12 years, and the only thing I miss was shrimp tacos and burritos at Del Taco.

  • Mike Mawson April 7, 2017, 1:12 pm

    My wife and I are both handicapped and CCH holders from Texas, running away is not an option for either of us. Does that negate the safely flee option?

    • loupgarous April 7, 2017, 7:46 pm

      I don’t know about Texas, because the DAs in Dallas and Houston are under the impression they can make the law up as they go along – one even tried charging Gov.Perry and arresting him on BS charges.. Generally, if you can’t run that means you can’t “flee a situation with complete safety”. Please talk this situation over with an attorney, because Texas gun laws look like a hot, incomprehensible mess to those of us over the state line who’ve heard horror stories about out-of-state residents being busted for having weapons within reach in their cars. But in your shoes, I’d protect myself and my wife first, then tell the cops what I did afterward. You have to make up your own mind on that, preferable after getting expert advice from a local lawyer or cop.

  • Dan Knowlton April 7, 2017, 12:22 pm

    In San Diego you have a duty to stand still so that the criminal can shoot you and then sue you for emotional distress! We have a repressive sheriff and district attorney and the anti-self protection bias is as strong here as anywhere else in commiefornia.

  • Robert Bradley April 7, 2017, 10:29 am

    Know that what ever you do, you’d better have at least $50,000 for an attorney if you have to use your gun, best to get insurance that’ll cover you, I found NRA has a better policy for just a little over $200 @ year and covers your wife, for $1,000,000 defense which you don’t pay back if found innocent! But have to pay back if found guilty! Others have stipulations which caused me to not be interested! Think of it like car insurance, you have it and hope you never need it, but if you do, the yearly cost of coming up with verses coming up with $50,000 is cheap! I agree, every gun owners or anyone who believes in our Constitutional Rights should call or write your representatives and demand they change the laws to protect the victims, not the criminal’s, and put stand your ground on the law books!

  • Harry Kirkland April 7, 2017, 10:25 am

    Ohio has Castle doctrine. You do not have to retreat in your home or vehicle.

  • Alan Kaufman April 7, 2017, 9:42 am

    While New York State requires retreat, the State only requires retreat if it can be done “in perfect safety”. In many instances the State has disregarded the requirement where an individual would be placing himself or herself in greater risk of harm. For instance, when the assailant has a gun, retreat is not required as one, generally, cannot outrun a bullet.
    Personally, I am against “Stand your Ground” for a few of reasons.
    1. There is little functional difference between “Stand Your Ground” and”Retreat in Perfect Safety”
    2. It’s much better to be able to tell the court, ” I tried to get away but he made me shoot him,”
    3. A moral person wants to avoid using deadly force unless absolutely necessary.
    P.S. I possess a New York State CCW and carry regular

    • Thomas Payne April 7, 2017, 11:31 am

      You guys in New York are a special kind of stupid. Most normal States understand the idea of self defense where the aggressor is a threat until they are unconscious, dead or arrested.

      • Leah N. August 5, 2017, 4:06 am

        Haha. This shits funny. True, sadly. Play nice now.

    • bison1913 April 7, 2017, 12:21 pm

      I have and carry a full CCW in New York State and you made me look stupid with your ignorant remark. Lets hope you never have to stand your ground if you are out with your family… kids and wife and you have to tell them come on kids lets make a run for it. Dumb remark. Stand your ground 100% why should the criminals have all the good laws.

    • loupgarous April 7, 2017, 7:55 pm

      I favor “stand your ground” laws because they usually remove any discretion a crusading DA or Attorney General might hive to charge you for shooting the great big mugger who is trying to pound your head onto a street curb, if he looks like the President’s son – if the President had one.

  • john gallus April 7, 2017, 9:36 am

    If an intruder knows your home and still breaks in he fully intends to harm you to get whatever he wants. In Delaware you must either leave or retreat to the last room. Evidently you must also warn that you are armed. Only then are you allowed to defend your life and home. The recent shooting in Waggoner co. with an AR shows how important it is to make time to hunt, trap shoot, or get to the range. One must remain familiar enough that God forbid , when the time comes, you can react . Only practice can do that.

  • Alan April 7, 2017, 9:06 am

    If you live in a State with such a Law, you must ask yourself who your elected officials are most concerned with, the Law abiding taxpayer, or the criminal.
    Now you owe it to yourself and future generations to change that Law, for when the criminal element is given a tactical advantage by the very people that swore to protect YOU, you have lost freedoms.
    ANY State wherein these Laws are on the books is a de facto Police State, plain and simple.

  • Greg Piper April 7, 2017, 9:00 am

    Just to advise the author of this article, Ohio passed the Stand your Ground law in 2013.

    • Jordan Michaels April 7, 2017, 4:37 pm

      Hi, Greg. Thanks for the heads up! We’ve changed the article to reflect Ohio’s passage of a SYG law.

      • Rc Zachariah April 10, 2017, 5:23 am

        Hello Jordan!

        Thanks for the article! Like you I’m a Canadian born, US resident who appreciates the 2nd Amendment.

        Whereabouts do you live? I’m in NYC. Originally from Alberta. Huge flames fan btw.

        We just had a Tim Hortons open near my home in NYC. Life’s good!

        Keep the articles and insights coming.

        Wishing you the best.

        RC Zachariah

  • Mort Leith April 7, 2017, 8:27 am

    You are not FREE if you live in a NON-FREE State that does not respect your right to defend yourself or your family.
    i.e., liberal commie States give more rights to the Criminals that honest law-abiding people

  • Tom Hart April 7, 2017, 8:07 am

    Rule 1
    The only gun fight you will ever win is the one you are never in!

    Rule 2
    Be a great witness

    Rule 3
    Refer to rule 1 and 2.

    That said, if the fight comes to you and you can not avoid imminent badly harm are death, its better to have and not need than need and not have.


    • deanbob April 7, 2017, 10:26 am

      ….and maintain proficiency through practice (dry firing or at the range).

  • Blasted Cap April 7, 2017, 6:40 am

    Maryland duty to retreat applies even if you are in your own home.
    I thank God everyday I moved to South Dakota.

    • Rick Sands April 7, 2017, 8:50 am

      Totally agree. I am a well-trained handgun owner with a Maryland Concealed Carry Permit. The Peoples Republic of Maryland is one of the least free states in the country. Despite a 65 year history of residence in Maryland, my wife and I have decided to move to North Carolina.

    • Yuriy April 7, 2017, 9:50 am

      I don’t think this is true. As far as I remember, Maryland adopted Castle doctrine couple years ago.

      • Steve crowl April 7, 2017, 1:55 pm

        Sorry dude, they didn’t and they have made getting a permit almost impossible. You have to carry large (LARGE) sums of money or you have to prove your life is in danger. Then it takes up to 4 months to get it. By then you are dead and there is no emergency process. Left the state for Kentucky. It’s a free state.

        • Yuriy April 7, 2017, 3:07 pm

          This thing says they did:

          Maryland follows several common law principles relating to self defense, which include:
          Duty to Retreat – In situations that take place outside of a person’s home the individual defending themselves has the duty to retreat, unless doing so is unsafe or impossible.
          The Castle Doctrine – In a person’s home they do not need to retreat, but can stand their ground and attempt to defeat or deter the invader. However, the use of force here must still be reasonable.

    • Thomas Payne April 7, 2017, 11:40 am

      Glad to have you. South Dakotans understand liberty and freedom and what it necessary to keep them. No one in South Dakota has ever been arrested, much less charged, for defending themselves or others. Unfortunately we are getting a lot of POS people spilling out of People’s Republic of Minnesota and other liberal states that are bringing in drugs or trafficking girls and women. Drug dealers shooting at themselves in running gun battles are becoming too common. I am carrying my weapon not only to protect myself but for others as well, as all good citizens should do!

  • Will Drider April 7, 2017, 12:43 am

    In States without Stand Your Ground (SYG) Laws or favorable Case Law, the liability of inserting yourself into a situation (ie a active mass shooting) legally prevents you from attempting to save lives, unless you saving the life of a cop! Major disparity on the value of life between cops they want you to save and civilians that must wait for LE to arrive. Is the 21 Foot Rule regarding aggressors with a blade also without legal merit? The key here is the part stating that “you know with complete personal safety” you can get youself/others safely away. Clearly if your being attacted, are the target or in the near periphery of the event; how can you even guess if you could get away safely? Predators chase prey. They kill witnesses too. Can you out run the BG, his bullets or vehicle coming down the sidewalk? Is jumping out a 2nd story window a required retreat? I will always respond to the tactical situation. As a civilian now, I don’t have any desire to have any interactions with BGs, but I will not run away when it is clear to me that my intervention could make a difference and save lives. There is always liability (where every round goes) and personal physical risk involved. Some people are mentally wired to run towards the sound of gun fire, not away. I’m in my 60s and haven’t found a off switch yet. This Old Dog isn’t about to learn a new trick for some jurisdiction that thinks its the new Master. Let the chips fall where they may.

    • srsquidizen April 7, 2017, 7:34 am

      You are probably okay as long as the perp has a real gun, and you sound like someone who’d know the difference. The article didn’t mention the fact that, state laws be damned, no jury or 12 (if at least 1 has an iota of common sense) would ever convict a person for defending themselves or anyone else who is in mortal danger. DA’s know this and will usually decline to even charge when it’s clear any jury they could pick would sympathize with a person honestly trying to save their own life or someone else’s.

      FF knew what they were doing giving us both 2A and the right to be judged in its exercise by ordinary citizens not bureaucrats.

    • Mike April 7, 2017, 8:03 am

      Will, you sound like you want to be a baddass but your prose is dangerous for people to try to develop a position to take. One can never tell how they are going to react to every BG. Good guys with a gun? Zimmerman set our cause way back because he was looking to be a vigilante. I was in the military (you sound like you were too). One has to divide the difference.
      Glad Dingleberry wrote this piece, stay on it dude! The absolute key her is to stay on your state legislators. Bring their ideology out in the clear open every time there is a shooting in the country. Take pure advantage like the liberals take every time there is a mass killing.

      • Shecky April 7, 2017, 11:56 am

        Mike, I’m not not seeing where Will is trying to be some badass. Marines 1973-83 and I’m like Will, I’ve yet to find that switch. I’ve concealed carry for 37 years and have yet to draw down on someone…BUT….I wouldn’t hesitate if mine or anyone else’s life were in danger. Unlike 10 years ago or longer I can’t physically do what I used to do to stop a BG….that being said, I’m not going to pull my weapon to try and just scare someone. If displayed, the BG needs to know I’m not there playing poker and trying to bluff him.

      • Will Drider April 7, 2017, 12:56 pm

        Your “wanna be a badass assumption” is incorrect. I don’t have any desire to harm anyone, or be a hero of sorts. I have retired from the Marines (E and O time) and from a second career in LE (including TERT). I have a track record that clearly defines how I respond. I take no pride or expression of bravado on the results and those events I recall will never be posted here. I am at peace with all my actions and sleep well as these are long past.

        You may have gotten the badass thing from my comment about running toward the sound of guns. There are simpler clues to forcast behavior: how do people respond to a accident, a fist fight, someone drowning, a scream for help? Do they stay in place, try and video the event, just get a better view or do they respond? Some folks just GO, others hesitate calculate then go while others do nothing to resolve the issue. Jumping to stop a fist fight is not the same as deciding to use lethal force though you could risk injury/death in both. People often think they know how they are mentally wired but big and strong have peed down their leg and the timid have answered the call. Anyone saying in X situation they would do Y is just a mental prep plan. You will not know what you will do till you’ve done it. On intervention in someone else’s incident, often our response to a event superceeds our judgement on the impact to us and our families if it goes bad.

    • Yuriy April 7, 2017, 10:09 am

      On the other hand, there are enough examples when good guy intervenes and shoots the victim. Everyone has to decide to himself, and accept the consequences of the decision, local law is just another thing to take into considerations.

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