John Oliver ripped Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws this past weekend during his TV show “Last Week Tonight” on HBO.
“Stand-your-ground has contributed to a society where vigilantes with guns can decide what is safety, who is a threat, and what the punishment should be,” exclaimed the Oliver. “They have turbocharged everything from road rage incidents to pointless disputes over dog weights.”
The comedian advised America, do not “pass any more stand-your-ground laws and repeal the ones that exist. They are redundant solutions to a made-up problem and they are actively doing harm.”
Is he right? Are SYG laws the bane of society?
The short answer is: no. Because they are predicated on what a “reasonable person” would do given the known facts of the situation. Additionally, one is typically disqualified from invoking an SYG defense if that person was in the process of committing a forcible felony.
Let’s back up a moment and clarify what exactly an SYG law does. Basically, it protects your right to use force, including deadly force, in the public square if someone is about to cause you death or great bodily harm.
SEE ALSO: Know When to Stand Your Ground and When You Have a Duty to Retreat (Part I – Stand Your Ground)
You can’t, for example, go around shooting people who call you mean things or who look at you funny. Because that is patently unreasonable. Your life was never in imminent danger. You’d be shooting people over hurt feelings — which is never a legitimate reason to use lethal force.
Likewise, a rapist cannot invoke the SYG defense following a deadly shooting if he was in the process of raping a victim at the time of the confrontation. Rape is a criminal act that voids the perp’s access to certain legal protections and rights. Under the circumstances, the rapist would probably be charged with both sexual assault and murder.
However, if a brutish mugger armed with a stiletto knife suddenly charges you and your family with the apparent intent of impaling your wife while you’re exiting a movie theater, you may draw your gun in self-defense to eliminate the threat.
Why? Because given the circumstances it’s what a “reasonable” husband would do.
Under SYG, there is no duty to retreat, which basically means there is nothing in the law that says that you have to first attempt to remove yourself from the situation, provided you can do so safely. In what is tantamount to a kill or be killed situation, so long as you are acting in accordance with the law, i.e. not committing a major crime, you can use force to defend yourself and your family.
Bottom line, Oliver’s criticisms of SYG laws don’t hold water. SYG laws are designed to protect the law-abiding. Sure, there are going to be instances where criminals and idiots use SYG in court and get off. Oliver may have alluded to some in his skit. Without knowing the specific details of the cases he highlighted it’s hard to say for sure. But, that’s just the nature of our justice system. Sometimes bad people don’t get the justice they deserve.
But that’s much better than the inverse — innocent people getting incarcerated or, more commonly in the case of self-defense encounters, put on the path to financial ruin because of the legal costs associated with defending oneself on both criminal and civil fronts.
SEE ALSO: Know When to Stand Your Ground and When You Have a Duty to Retreat (Part II – Duty to Retreat)
And really, that’s probably the most important aspect of SYG laws. The civil and criminal immunity that is afforded to the lawful self-defender. No doubt there will still be legal costs associated with making a successful SYG defense before a judge, but they’ll be much less than if that individual was forced to go to trial in criminal court and subsequently sued in civil court.
Keep good guys out of prison and from going bankrupt for protecting themselves and the ones they love. That’s the point of SYG laws. When they’re correctly framed in this light, only a fool would call for their repeal.
If you’re interested in learning more about SYG laws, still, to this day, the best defense of SYG laws I’ve seen comes from legendary firearms trainer and 2A defender, Massad Ayoob. If you have roughly 16 minutes, it’s totally worth watching. Ayoob dispels many of the myths about SYG laws and explains why SYG is a sensible doctrine backed by historical precedent.