Why is “Duty To Retreat” Superior to “Stand Your Ground”?

3 min readOct 10, 2022
Photo by Kasper Rasmussen on Unsplash

Self-defense laws required a “duty to retreat”. Meaning a threatened person could not harm another, especially with deadly force, if there was an opportunity to flee. The threatened person had to be trapped or cornered.

In 2005, Florida became the first state to remove any “duty to retreat”. By 2012, 19 other states did the same. These laws became known as “stand your ground”. Today, there are 38 “stand your ground” states.

But what was wrong with a “duty to retreat”?

Too often, people were found guilty of crimes ranging from battery to manslaughter because they didn’t retreat “far enough” to meet the legal definition of self-defense. “Stand your ground” laws give the benefit of the doubt to the threatened person.

In 2012, “stand your ground” laws were nationally scrutinized after a black teenager was fatally shot in Florida by a community watch volunteer who claimed he acted in self-defense. The national media reported that an unarmed black teen was shot and killed by a white man who wasn’t arrested by the police due to Florida’s “stand your ground” laws. At this juncture, “stand your ground” critics claimed there was racial bias in the application of the law.

John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, conducted a study examining racial disparities in “justifiable homicides”. The FBI’s data revealed that the killing of black people by whites was more likely to be considered justified than the killing of white people by blacks.

Roman emphasized that these figures don’t prove bias because the data doesn’t show the circumstances behind the killings. Unfortunately, that fact didn’t matter to those that opposed “stand your ground” because they were convinced disparities between blacks and whites were caused by racism.

John Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, insisted “stand your ground” laws were not racially biased but were beneficial to black people. Lott Jr. said, “Blacks are more likely to be successful in making claims using “stand your ground” than any other racial group. Blacks who live in high-crime urban areas are the people most likely to be victims of violent crime in the United States.”




J. Pharoah Doss is a columnist for the New Pittsburgh Courier.