WASHINGTON - At U.S. Senator Dick Durbin's Stand Your Ground hearing on Tuesday, Cato Institute fellow Ilya Shapiro set the record straight on the legal history of protecting citizens' right to defend themselves without a "duty to retreat."
The concept of defending oneself does not reflect political party or ideology, as Senator Durbin strived to portray through his own comments, as well as the testimony of witnesses he invited before his committee.
Shapiro said (video below): "…there’s nothing particularly novel, partisan, or ideological about these laws. All they do is allow people to assert their right to self-defense in certain circumstances without having a so-called “duty to retreat.” The SYG principle has been enshrined in the law of a majority of U.S. states for over 150 years, originating as judge-made common law and eventually being codified by statute."
At present, about 31 states — give or take, depending on how you count — have some type of SYG doctrine, a vast majority of which had it as part of their common law even before legislators took any action. So even if these statutes were repealed tomorrow, SYG would still be the law in most states because of preexisting judicial decisions. And, of course, some states, like California and Virginia, maintain SYG only judicially, without having passed any legislation.
It’s also worth noting that of the 15 states that have passed variations of the law since 2005, the year Florida’s model legislation became law, eight — a majority — had Democratic governors when the laws were enacted. None issued a veto. Democratic governors who signed SYG bills, or otherwise permitted them to become law, include Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Brian Schweitzer of Montana, John Lynch of New Hampshire, Brad Henry of Oklahoma, Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Janet Napolitano of Arizona. The bills in Louisiana and West Virginia passed with Democratic control of both houses in the state legislatures, in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Even Florida’s supposedly controversial law passed the state senate unanimously and split Democrats in the state house. Conversely, many so-called “red states,” or those that have a significant gun culture — such as Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wyoming — impose a duty to retreat.
Shapiro's 5 minute testimony also confirmed that in 2004 Illinois State Senator Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to strengthen Illinois defense laws.