The long history of Stand Your Ground

One meme going around the blogosphere is to say that Barack Obama is being hypocritical to oppose Stand Your Ground now when he was a co-sponsor of a Stand Your Ground law in Illinois. David Weigel (of Journolist infamy) fires back, writing:

Oh, you can probably guess the twist. [Scofflaw: sucking up to the brilliant readers at Slate, who are oh so much smarter than those stupid wingnuts, check!] Illinois’ 2004 SB2386 was passed by a unanimous vote in the state Senate. It amended a self-defense law first passed in 1961. Alarm bells should be ringing at this point, because Florida was pretty famously the first state to pass a “stand your ground” law, a year after this Illinois bill. Have reporters been blowing that story? No: “Stand your ground” is substantively different than what Obama backed in Illinois. He backed a tweak to the “castle doctrine,” which reads . . .

The degree of similarity between the two laws is debatable. It didn’t take much digging to find that there is a lot of similarity between them, but the similarity in a different area (a shield from lawsuits in self-defense cases) than the one most people are talking about most when they bring up Stand Your Ground. So while there’s some truth to the meme, Weigel also has a point.

Of course, that’s all based on the counterfactual assumption that this debate has anything to do with the substantive contents of the law, rather than pure demagoguery.

But never mind all that, I want to go back to this point, where Weigel seems to believe he proves that Illinois’s law can’t possibly be Stand Your Ground:

Alarm bells should be ringing at this point, because Florida was pretty famously the first state to pass a “stand your ground” law, a year after this Illinois bill.

Absolutely, utterly false, and by saying it Weigel beclowns himself far in excess of any legitimate point he might have had. Florida might have been the first to use the phrase “Stand Your Ground” (doubtful, but I can’t say for sure one way or the other), but the doctrine is over a century old. Andrew Blanca notes numerous cases doing as far back as 1877.

You needn’t be a lawyer to know this. Any history covering the American West (I recommend Paul Johnson) will tell of how the frontier did away with the duty to retreat that was typical back east. That doctrine, which we now call Stand Your Ground, was what gave rise to the gunfighting mythology of the West. That mythology persists today, providing not only most of the misconceptions employed to attack Stand Your Ground, but indeed providing most of the attack terminology (e.g., “the Wild West”) as well.

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