Courts Revisiting the 2nd Amendment: Does Self-Defense Extend Outside the Home?

Needless to say, many of us agree that our right to keep and bear arms, as well as our right to defend ourselves, extends beyond our homes.  States like Florida and Texas have certainly embraced this interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Consider, for example, Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, which permits the use of deadly force if someone breaks into your home, car or boat, and in situations outside your home where an aggressor makes you feel your life is in danger.

The concept of ‘Stand Your Ground’ and the other self-defense laws (‘Make My Day,’ ‘Castle Doctrine,’ etc.) are not new.  In 1895 the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Beard v. U.S. that a man who was “where he had the right to be” when he came under attack and “…did not provoke the assault, and had at the time reasonable grounds to believe, and in good faith believed, that the deceased intended to take his life, or do him great bodily harm…was not obliged to retreat, nor to consider whether he could safely retreat, but was entitled to stand his ground.”

However, not everyone agrees that the right to defend oneself extends beyond the home.  And, as a result, each state has it’s own rules and conditions with regards to if and when deadly force is justified.  Currently (as of May 2010) there are only 31 states that have adopted some form of the ‘Castle Law’ and/or ‘Stand Your Ground’ (see graph below).

castle doctrine and stand your ground laws US map

A quick note of clarification, ‘Castle Law’ relates to the right to defend oneself within the home and ‘Stand Your Ground’ expands that right beyond the home.

But the fact that there is so much disagreement about the right to defend oneself outside the home is troubling, especially for responsible gun owners.

Thankfully, the NRA has been pushing for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the issue this fall.  According to an article in the LA Times, the NRA is requesting that the high court “correct the widespread misapprehension that the 2nd Amendment’s scope does not extend beyond the home.”

As the LA Times points out, the confusion about what self-defense rights are granted under the Second Amendment were further muddled in Justice Scalia’s 2008 decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290) case, which overturned Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns:

Justice Antonin Scalia said the history of the 2nd Amendment shows it “guarantees the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” But other parts of his 5-4 opinion stressed there is no right to “carry any weapon in any manner,” and that bans on “carrying concealed weapons were lawful” in the 19th century.

judge scalia with his hands in the air

Scalia’s decision was a step in the right direction, but to many gun owners, it didn’t go far enough because it didn’t provide the clarification that is so desperately needed to silence, once and for all, the pro-gun control crowd on the issue of self-defense.

The Supreme Court needs to decree, in no uncertain terms, that the right to protect oneself in and around the home as well as in one’s community is a right covered under the Second Amendment.  Or, more clearly, that it is the Second Amendment, i.e. the right to keep and bear arms is synonymous with the right to defend oneself.

Until that happens, we’ll continue to read about judges like U.S. District Judge Morrison England (CA) who denied a law-abiding citizen his right to carry a concealed weapon.  Judge England ruled in May, “The 2nd Amendment does not create a fundamental right to carry a concealed weapon in public.”

As mentioned, the Supreme Court will have an opportunity to set the record straight this fall.  There are two appeal petitions before the Court that deal with concealed carry and self-defense.  If the justices vote to hear either one, they can finally put this matter to rest.

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