What You Don’t Know about Your State’s Self Defense Laws May Shock You

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I’m a Lifetime movie network kind of gal. I can’t help it. I have been for years. My father also shares my love of those over the top storylines of wives, girlfriends, whoever; kills, stalks, identity theft, steals, their lover, husband, child, boss, next door neighbor, half the time based on a true story, made for TV movies. Usually corny, low budgeted, and insanely predictable, but somehow captivating. There are also a lot of cut and dry self-defense lifesaving moments that seem pretty cut and dry. In the movies self-defense always wins, but that may or may not be the case in real life.

While discussing a mutually shared fondness for gun ranges with a friend from work, she informed me that we lived in a state (California) without a self-defense law. At least that is what she was pretty sure of, and I had no firm knowledge of one way or another.

“If you injure or kill someone, no matter what the circumstances, you WILL be arrested and charged with a crime. The police will not make the assumption that you acted in self-defense. The police are not responsible for making that decision. They will let the courts sort that out.”

California is in FACT a state whose law with a law recognizes self-defense if you, “Reasonably believe that you are in imminent danger of being killed, seriously injured, or unlawfully touched. If you believe that immediate force is necessary to prevent that danger, and use no more force than necessary to defend against that danger.”

My coworker was wrong.

California’s self-defense law justifies your injuring (or even killing) another person if these conditions are satisfied. This means that if these requirements are met, self-defense can serve as a complete defense to a California violent crime if you are forced to kill or injure another.

The current self-defense laws in America are based on a theory of it being one’s duty to retreat, meaning when faced with a hostile situation, run away. If you cannot run away and have to defend yourself, then use of force then (and only then) is acceptable. In criminal law, the duty to retreat is a specific component which sometimes appears in the realm of self-defense, and it must be proven why it was justified.

What is true is that there is widespread misconception about what is actually considered self-defense, because self-defense laws vary state to state.

Oh. Oh? Oh is right.

“Stand-Your-Ground” Law (critics call it the shoot first, ask questions later law…)

“The state of Florida became the first to enact such a self-defense law on October 1, 2005. The Florida statute allows the use of deadly force when a person reasonably believes it necessary to prevent the commission of a “forcible felony.” Under the statute, forcible felonies include “treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; car-jacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful placing, throwing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.”

The Florida law authorizes the use of defensive force by anyone “who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be.” Furthermore, under the law, such a person “has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” The statute also grants civil and criminal immunity to anyone found to have had such a reasonable belief.

Since the enactment of the Florida legislation,

  • South Dakota
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • And Indiana have adopted similar statutes
  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington
  • Wyoming put “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws into consideration.

(2005 source via alljujitsu.com)

According to the New York Times in 2006, 15 did indeed expand their right to shoot in self-defense laws. As of 2012, 23 states have such laws. Alternet.org analyzed this topic in their article, 23 States with “Stand Your Ground” Gun Laws Like the One that Let Trayvon Martin’s Killer Go Free.

But at least I’m a little more informed about the state I call home, matter on the subject. Loose at best though, because last time I checked shooting someone wasn’t the only way someone could kill another in “defense”.

Authors Attorney Mitch Vilos and Evan Vilos go more in depth about this in their book, Self Defense Laws of All 50 States (With Plain-Talk Summaries Limited Edition Cover)

And Wikipedia offers a launching pad of information on:

  • Battered woman syndrome
  • Castle Doctrine
  • Deadly force
  • Defense of property
  • Imperfect self-defense
  • Right of self-defense

Source here.

I’d recommend learning a thing or two. I want to learn how to use a gun not because I have any desire to own one, but if I’m in a situation where I have to use one, I will be skilled in how to shoot effectively and ideally not kill them. (I’d always prefer to retreat!! And sometimes people need to be slowed down so that retreat can happen. A shot in the leg will slow anyone down—right?)

In the meantime I’ve taken the obligatory female self-defense courses…I could hurt someone. But hopefully I won’t ever have to.

Writer and curator of interesting12, Maggie is a DC based writer with a heart for nonprofits, a passion for complicated people, and lover of all things well designed and well said. This former longtime LA resident is a firm believer we should be challenging ourselves to discuss what affect us in this world and how. She’s opinionated, a teller of both sides of the story, and some say she’s clever.