Rep. Gaetz, Sen. Mullin Introduce National ‘Stand Your Ground’ Self-Defense Bill

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
May 5, 2023Politics
Rep. Gaetz, Sen. Mullin Introduce National ‘Stand Your Ground’ Self-Defense Bill
A handgun in a holster in a file photo. (David Ryder/Getty Images)

The legal standard known as “stand your ground”—which allows people to use deadly force to defend against a violent attacker—could become the law of the land under a new bill introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.).

On Thursday, Gaetz and Mullin announced legislation (pdf) called the Stand Your Ground Act of 2023 that would make “stand your ground” the legal standard for self-defense throughout the United States.

“Every American has the right to defend themselves and their loved ones from an attacker. If someone tries to kill you, you should have the right to return fire and preserve your life,” Gaetz said Thursday.

The Florida Republican said, “We must abolish the legal duty of retreat everywhere.”

“States like Oklahoma and Florida recognize that in some cases, the use of lethal force is justified to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm. Every American should have the right to defend himself or herself against imminent threats to personal safety without the duty to retreat,” Mullin said, who filed a Senate version of the bill. “I’m proud to introduce the Stand Your Ground Act in the Senate to codify these commonsense self-defense protections for all law-abiding Americans.”

‘Duty To Retreat’ Favors Attackers: Gaetz

The “stand your ground” self-defense standard caught widespread media attention after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

Martin, a 17-year-old, was fatally shot after an altercation with 28-year-old George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman was charged with murder but argued that Martin had attacked him and that he fired in self-defense. A jury found Zimmerman not guilty after a trial.

The shooting sparked criticism of Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws, with prosecutors and gun control proponents arguing that the legal standard makes it harder to determine who was the aggressor in a fatal altercation and whether a shooting was legally justified.

In an interview with Fox News, Gaetz said his support for the “stand your ground” standard actually solidified after Martin’s death. Gaetz had served in the Florida House of Representatives and worked on the Criminal Justice Subcommittee while the legislature faced national calls to repeal the state’s “stand your ground” laws.

“I became even more convinced that the legal duty to retreat from common law puts the law on the side of the attacker, not the victim,” Gaetz told Fox News. “And as I’ve gotten to Congress, I don’t believe that the legal duty to retreat as an American ought to be different in Florida and Connecticut and Massachusetts and California.”

‘Stand Your Ground’ is a ‘Shoot First’ Standard: Gun Control Advocates

Gun control organizations like the Brady Campaign have referred to “stand your ground” self-defense laws as “shoot first” laws.

“All you have to say is that you reasonably believed you were threatened, and the only person who can dispute that is the person you have just killed,” Brady Campaign Senior Attorney Daniel Vice told MSNBC after Martin’s death. “It’s very hard to bring these types of cases because the ‘Shoot First’ law combined with public carrying of loaded guns protects people who engage someone and shoot to kill.”

After Gaetz and Mullin introduced their bill on Thursday, left-wing organization Occupy Democrats wrote on Twitter that the bill “would allow anyone to use deadly force so long as they later claim that they were ‘reasonably’ concerned that they were at risk of ‘imminent death or great bodily harm.'”

“If this deranged legislation passes, MAGA lunatics all over America will be able to finally act out their violent fantasies of vigilante justice with impunity,” the tweet continued.

Gaetz’s bill may pass in the Republican-majority House, but the legislation faces tougher odds in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Even if the legislation did pass in both houses of Congress, it would still have to gain President Joe Biden’s approval.

The Republican legislation comes as Biden and other Democratic politicians have called for more gun control measures following recent deadly mass shootings, like the attack on a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, in March.

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