Stand Your Ground

This post is excerpted from the blog “Pennsylvania Law Abiding Gun Owner’s Blog”. Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. Nothing in this content constitutes legal advice. If you are in need of legal advice on this matter, retain a licensed, competent attorney in your relevant jurisdiction.

This law has been highly controversial across the nation, and perhaps for no reason at all. Some people who do not like it call it the “Make My Day” law. Highly publicized cases which invited scrutiny of Stand Your Ground laws were ultimately decided on very traditional justification principles rather than the legislative protections of Stand Your Ground.

Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground provision is not as extensive as one might have read in the press or on blogs. While it alleviates the general duty to retreat under some circumstances, it does not do any more than that.

If you are attacked in a place where you would normally have a duty to retreat, provided certain criteria are met, you “[have] the right to stand [your] ground and use force, including deadly force.”

In order for this to apply, you:

  1. Must have a right to be in the place where you are attacked, and
  2. You must reasonably believe deadly force is immediately necessary to protect yourself from death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse by force or threat (for the sake of argument, let’s call that “rape”).
  3. Most importantly, this law only applies if the attacker “displays or otherwise uses” a firearm, a replica of a firearm, or any other weapon readily or apparently capable of lethal use.

Unless you are being attacked by someone who has what appears to be some kind of deadly weapon, Stand Your Ground will never come into play. Stand Your Ground protections are also not afforded to those engaged in criminal activity, those who are in illegal possession of a firearm, or when force is used against a known law enforcement officer. So you cannot be in a meth lab, shoot someone, and claim Stand Your Ground. It also means you cannot shoot a police officer knocking on your door with a warrant in hand and claim Stand Your Ground.

If you’ll notice, the reasons for which deadly force may be used are not any more extensive than provided by Pennsylvania’s general justification laws. The law merely removes the duty to retreat in select situations.

It comes down to this: Larry the law abiding gun owner, while going about his daily routine in public, generally has a duty to retreat before using his firearm, but only if it is possible to do so in complete safety. Suppose Chris the Criminal, who is wielding a knife, approaches Larry on the street. Chris’ arm is in the ready stabbing position as often depicted in horror movies. Larry is in fear of imminent death, and reasonably so. Can Larry retreat in complete safety? Well, perhaps. If Larry is a collegiate sprinter, maybe he can take off and Chris will never catch him. But under Stand Your Ground, the law doesn’t make folks like Larry take that chance.

Since Stand Your Ground has been publicized as taking us back to the days of the old west, and law abiding gun owners must ignore this misconception and understand the true meaning of the law. In reality, Stand Your Ground is very narrow in scope, and will only protect you if all of the requirements above are met.