'Stand Your Ground' Laws Are Winning

Calls for elimination of the laws have arisen in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, but the likelihood of repeal is low.
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On Tuesday, the same day that Attorney General Eric Holder said that "Stand Your Ground" laws "sow dangerous conflict," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called her state's version of the law "important" and a "constitutional right." And Wednesday, Florida state Sen. David Simmons called Holder's comments "inappropriate" and "inaccurate." Stand Your Ground may be getting more attention now after the Zimmerman verdict, but the laws themselves don't look like they're going anywhere.

And that's not for a lack of effort from critics of the self-defense policy. While the exact laws differ somewhat from state to state, Stand Your Ground laws justify the use of force in self-defense when there's a reasonably perceived threat. It's on the books in some form or another in more than 21 states. Florida was the first to adopt the law, and the state is the focus of the law's critics now. Those critics range from Stevie Wonder (who has decided to boycott any state with a Stand Your Ground law) to the dozens of student activists who crowded Gov. Rick Scott's office on Tuesday.

But the critics aren't limited to Florida. In New Hampshire, the state's attorney general on Wednesday called for "another look" at the state's Stand Your Ground law. "I think what it can do is cause a situation to escalate that doesn't need to," he said.

That may sound promising to the law's detractors. But the thing is, the New Hampshire attorney general's office never supported Stand Your Ground to begin with. But it still passed. And the attorney general supported its repeal earlier this year. But that failed. The state's struggles are just one example of how steep of a climb it is to peel back Stand Your Ground nationally. As New Hampshire's Union Leader put it, the state will "have to endure without live performances from Stevie Wonder from now on." In Florida, meanwhile, opponents of the law don't seem to think they have a chance.

In Iowa, there's even one lawmaker who this week proposed to introduce Stand Your Ground to the state. A version of Stand Your Ground failed in 2012 after passing the House, but now it looks likely to return in the next legislative session. Iowa's not alone: A bill to expand Stand Your Ground was introduced recently in Ohio. On Wednesday, the bill's backer, state Rep. Terry Johnson, said that "you need to be able to defend yourself, you need to have a clear idea that this is a basic right that you can exercise at that moment, at that time."

At the federal level, Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., offered a resolution in February "urging the repeal of Stand Your Ground." And in 2012, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, submitted the Justice Exists For All of Us Act, which would have outlawed any state statutes that do "not impose a duty to retreat" before using force, outside of the realm of domestic abuse. That bill was eventually referred to committee, where it died at the end of the 112th Congress. The only real hope for critics of Stand Your Ground at the federal level looks to be from the Justice Department's investigation into the law, but we'll see how that goes.

Without a doubt, more states will look at their Stand Your Ground laws in the coming weeks. And the outrage and frustration over the death of Trayvon Martin, and the role Florida's law played in it, isn't likely to just disappear anytime soon. But right now, with Stand Your Ground firmly entrenched and with serious institutional and financial support from the likes of the National Rifle Association, the laws are so far winning out.

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Matt Berman is an online editor at National Journal.

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