A Proposal to Radically Expand Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground Law

  • Date:
  • November 20, 2020

Florida set off the modern wave of stand-your-ground laws in 2005. Its law not only provides that an individual need not retreat before resorting to deadly force in any place he has a right to be, but also grants civil immunity and immunity from arrest, prosecution, and charging to a person who kills in self-defense. The Florida law also expands one’s authority to use deadly force. Under common law and the Model Penal Code, deadly force cannot be used to protect property, but only, in the MPC’s words, “to protect [oneself] against death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat.” Florida permits deadly force to prevent any “forcible felony,” which includes things like carjackings and burglary.

Even though this law broadly permits use of deadly force in situations in which it might not be strictly necessary, let alone socially desirable, there are calls to expand it even more. In the past few weeks, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has called for legislators to amend the law as part of what he calls his broader “anti-mob legislation.” DeSantis wants the definition of a “forcible felony” expanded to include three additional offenses that would justify a person using deadly force to prevent: (1) looting, which the legislation defines as “committing burglary within 500 feet of a violent or disorderly assembly”; (2) “criminal mischief that results in the interruption or impairment of a business operation,” and (3) “arson that results in the interruption or impairment of a business operation.”

That proposal would constitute a vast expansion of authority to use deadly force. And even if a person is not successful in invoking the statute in a particular situation, the law itself can often shape perceptions about when it is permissible to use force. Stand-your-ground laws are one of the few areas of gun laws that the RAND Corporation has found enough data to support drawing a conclusion about their effects: that these laws lead to an increase in firearm homicide.