“Shoot First, Ask Questions Later.” “License to Kill.” “Kill At Will.” Stand Your Ground laws are known by all of these names. Across the U.S. at least 25 states already have Stand Your Ground laws on the books.

These laws embolden gun owners to shoot to kill in situations where deadly force could have been avoided. Stand Your Ground has been proven dangerous, unnecessary, and also discriminatory.

Stand-Your-Ground laws raise serious concerns about the protection of the most fundamental human rights: the right to live and the right not to be subjected to discrimination on any grounds.


Everyone has a right to self-defense, but evidence shows that Stand Your Ground laws actually endanger lives and public safety.

Stand Your Ground laws remove the “duty to retreat” before shooting to kill. The “duty to retreat” exists to minimize the use of deadly force to incidents where there is no safe alternative. While the word “retreat” may initially invoke images of an individual fleeing for their life, the meaning in this context is simply making any attempt to deescalate or walk away, if one is able to do so safely, before shooting to kill.

The “duty to retreat” is a standard by which we all operate on a day-to-day basis – instead of throwing a punch at the first sign of a threat, we expect individuals to at least attempt to deescalate or walk away, and resort to violence only when absolutely necessary. We should be able to expect the same – if not higher – degree of diligence when considering deadly weapons in public spaces.

In general, the use of lethal force is lawful only if, at the time of its use, it is “strictly unavoidable” in order to meet an “imminent threat of death” in self-defense or defense of others. The definition of ‘imminence’ in international law is highly limited – an offensive act already in motion. While these standards were developed for law enforcement officials, Amnesty International believes that they provide useful guidance for the state in determining what force is acceptable from private individuals who are in effect taking the law into their own hands.

By the numbers

More likely that white defendants with Black victims will have Stand Your Ground granted in their favor, compared to Black defendants with white victims

By the numbers

Increase in gun-related homicides after Florida enacted Stand Your Ground

By the numbers
500 – 700

More homicides every year in 23 states with Stand Your Ground laws according to a 2012 study


  • A study of data from 23 states with Stand Your Ground laws also found that white homicide defendants with Black victims were 12 times more likely to have their homicides ruled justified than Black defendants whose victims were white.
  • The American Medical Association found that Florida’s implementation of this law led to a 24.4% increase in homicides overall and a 32% increase in gun-related homicides specifically.
  • The American Bar Association found that the application of Stand Your Ground laws is “unpredictable, uneven and results in racial disparities”, also finding that interracial homicides spiked in the states that had these laws.


  • State legislatures should repeal all Stand Your Ground laws on the basis that they may violate the right to life and the right to be free from discrimination and violate international standards on the use of lethal force.
  • The U.S. Attorney General should lead a comprehensive nationwide study examining the effects of Stand Your Ground Laws, including whether they have led to an increase in gun homicides and the right to be free from discrimination. The Department of Justice should publicly disclose the findings of this study.