But the law is not what you have heard reported by the media. Florida’s SYG law provides that a person under attack can use force—including deadly force—against his attacker if he, “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm … or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”
Several keys points. First, the threat must be deadly. It’s not just that you’re under attack. You must be attacked with sufficient force to kill you or cause massive bodily harm, or rape.
Second, it’s not enough that the victim believes he is under a deadly threat. His belief must also be reasonable, meaning that under the circumstances an objective observer would also conclude the victim could be killed or severely injured.
Third, SYG only protects victims; it does not apply to attackers. If you’re attacking someone, you cannot claim SYG as a defense for what follows.
And fourth, it doesn’t apply if you cannot retreat. If retreat is not an option, then the situation is governed by ordinary self-defense laws, not SYG laws.
Under any version of the facts, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law did not apply in the Trayvon Martin incident. If Zimmerman pursued a confrontation with Martin, then Zimmerman was an attacker and cannot claim SYG. If Zimmerman’s account is true that he was on the ground and Martin was on top of him, then retreat was impossible, so there would be no duty to retreat anyway. A victim in such a situation can use deadly force, but only if he reasonably believes he is being attacked with deadly force.
To our knowledge, that is the law in all fifty states. It was the law before SYG statutes were ever passed, and SYG did nothing to change it.
So why is this not common knowledge after all the reporting on the Martin shooting? Tragically, some anti-gun activists are misinforming the public. They are aided by media commentators who failed the public trust by not researching and understanding the SYG issue before presuming to editorialize on it.
The police are usually not at hand when you are attacked by a criminal. The Second Amendment guarantees the right of law-abiding people to defend themselves. And laws like Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground have restored that right in states where it had been eroded, not to take innocent life, but instead to preserve it.