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More Americans Are Standing Up for Stand-Your-Ground Laws

An attendee at the 2012 National Rifle Association meeting in Houston

Photograph by Aaron M. Spencer/Bloomberg

An attendee at the 2012 National Rifle Association meeting in Houston

President Barack Obama, Senator John McCain, and a host of others may have doubts about stand-your-ground laws, but a majority of Americans in a new poll favor the controversial provisions.

With respondents dividing along racial and gender lines, voters back stand-your-ground provisions 53 percent to 40 percent, according to a national poll by Quinnipiac University. The laws, now on the books in about half the states, have drawn attention since the fatal shooting last year of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Florida passed the first stand-your-ground measure in 2005 with strong support from the National Rifle Association.

The laws generally allow individuals to use force in self defense—and without having to retreat first—so long as they reasonably believe they face a deadly threat. One of the paradoxes of the furious debate about the acquittal of Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, is that his lawyers declined to invoke Florida’s stand-your-ground statute as part of his defense. Nevertheless, the statutes have become a flash point in a racially charged, media-fueled argument over whether the stand-your-ground ethos, combined with widespread laws permitting the concealed carrying of firearms, encourage violence or deter it.

In July, McCain joined Obama in calling for a review of stand-your-ground legislation. The Arizona Republican said he thought that his own conservative home state should consider revising its law on the topic. ”I’m confident that the members of the Arizona legislature will [rethink the statute] because it is a very controversial legislation,” he said.

The Quinnipiac poll, conducted from July 28 to July 31, revealed a number of sharp divides over stand-your-ground. Fifty-seven percent of white voters favored the laws, while the same percentage of black voters opposed them. Males and Republicans expressed strong support for them, while Democrats and women tended to disapprove.

Given these splits, Peter Brown, assistant director of the university’s polling institute, said in a press release that “it’s unlikely the movement to repeal stand-your-ground will be successful in most of the country.”

Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador.

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