There has been some confusion regarding concealed carry laws in light of recent shootings. This is especially true in the Trayvon Martin case which has stirred up a lot of emotion. Many people are upset that the police department did not initially arrest Zimmerman because of the “Stand Your Ground” law.
There are two policies that seem to be similar and are often lumped together by people who do not understand concealed carry laws. These are the “Castle Doctrine” and the “Stand Your Ground” law.
Both laws protect a citizen who feels like they are being threatened. States or jurisdictions without these laws may require that the person who is feeling threatened attempt to retreat from the situation before using their weapon. The idea that we should require a person to retreat before fighting back may have made sense in the days before handguns were prevalent, but is not always practical or even possible today. If an attacker has a gun, is it realistic to expect that you would be able to safely retreat? What if the attacker is significantly younger, or stronger, than you?
The Castle Doctrine, which is valid in over half the country, allows a person to defend themselves in their own home without having to attempt a retreat. Since a person in their home is likely not carrying a concealed weapon, this is not accurately portrayed as one of the concealed carry laws, but still, it is an important law that every homeowner should be aware of. Not only does this doctrine protect the homeowner from some stranger intent on breaking into your home to steal from you or threaten you with harm, it also protects homeowners from each other. In fact, one of the reasons for such strong support for this law is it helps protect women from abusive spouses, many of whom have a key to the home. No longer is a woman supposed to run and hide from a husband intent on inflicting bodily harm, she may legally defend herself thanks to the Castle Doctrine.
The Stand Your Ground law goes further in that it protects us outside of our homes. Generally part of concealed carry laws, but may be used by people who openly carry handguns, this law allows a person to defend himself without having to retreat as long as he feels legitimately threatened.
What makes this so controversial among concealed carry laws is that it is hard to determine if a person “legitimately” feels threatened. In some states you will still be arrested and charged if you use your weapon, but Stand Your Ground may be used as a defense. In other cases, the police may decide that they won’t arrest you because the law makes it too difficult to prosecute.
This is the aspect of the law that stirred the controversy in Florida. Initially it was deemed that the concealed carry laws, including Stand Your Ground, were so strong that Zimmerman could not be arrested or charged with a crime. The court of public opinion weighed in with such an uproar that law enforcement reconsidered and have subsequently arrested Zimmerman.
Zimmerman should be protected under the law and should not be tried and convicted in the media without the opportunity to defend himself. The Stand Your Ground law does not give anyone the right to indiscriminately shoot or kill others. The law merely asserts that we have the right to defend ourselves without attempting to retreat even if the attacker does not have a gun.
Gun owners must learn to recognize legitimate threats and take the appropriate action. Concealed carry laws should protects us when we do.