Skip to main content Accessibility help

ORIGINATING STAND YOUR GROUND: Racial Violence and Neoliberal Reason

  • Marcus Lee (a1)


Since the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Stand Your Ground law has come to emblematize contemporary racial injustice. Yet, the legitimacy of the statute endures, as more than thirty-three states maintain and enforce some version of Stand Your Ground. This article probes the legitimacy basis for Stand Your Ground by excavating and reconstructing its formative logic. Drawing on archival records of the Florida state legislature’s 2005 pioneering of the statute, I examine how lawmakers justified its introduction, design, and enactment. I find that proponents of Stand Your Ground framed it as a response to the cost impositions of criminal prosecution and civil action. In introducing Stand Your Ground, they sought to protect self-defensive actors against the burdens of administrative and judicial proceedings by granting them civil immunity. During the mark-up process, legislators held an extensive debate over the intended beneficiaries and victims of Stand Your Ground. Racial codes animated this debate: “drug dealers,” “gangs,” and “cop killers” represented the types of criminal subjects whom the legal protections of Stand Your Ground should exclude, while “violent criminals” in the “bad part of town” represented the intended objects of the statute’s authorization of deadly force. Ultimately, legislators translated the concerns raised during this debate into statutory design choices that baked race into Stand Your Ground.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Marcus Lee, Department of Political Science, University of Chicago, Pick Hall, 5828 South University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637. E-mail:


Hide All
Ackerman, Nicole, Goodman, Melody S., Gilbert, Keon, Arroyo-Johnson, Cassandra, and Pagano, Marcello (2015). Race, Law, and Health: Examination of ‘Stand Your Ground’ and Defendant Convictions in Florida. Social Science & Medicine, 142: 194201.
Alpert, Geoffrey P., Dunham, Roger G., and Smith, Michael R. (2007). Investigating Racial Profiling by The Miami-Dade Police Department: A Multimethod Approach. Criminology & Public Policy, 6(1): 2555.
Alvarez, Lizette (2017). Florida Poised to Strengthen ‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense. The New York Times, March 15. <> (accessed March 15, 2017).
Anderson, Elijah (2013). Emmett and Trayvon. Washington Monthly. <> (accessed August 19, 2018).
Aubry, Jason (2017). Ohio Bill Would Allow Gun Owners to Shoot in Self-Defense Without Retreating. (blog), May 30. <> (accessed June 23, 2017).
Botehlo, Greg (2012). What Happened the Night Trayvon Martin Died. CNN, May 23. <> (accessed March 9, 2017).
Bousquet, Steve (2012). Meet Dennis Baxley, The Lawmaker Who Always Stands His Ground. Tampa Bay Times, April 21. <> (accessed March 9, 2017).
Brown, Wendy 2015 (2015). Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Brooklyn, New York: Zone Books.
Butz, Adam M., Fix, Michael P., and Mitchell, Joshua L. (2015). Policy Learning and the Diffusion of Stand-Your-Ground Laws. Politics & Policy, 43(3): 347377.
Catalfamo, Christine (2007). Stand Your Ground: Florida’s Castle Doctrine for the Twenty-First Century. Rutgers Journal of Law & Public Policy, 4(3): 504545.
Cavazos, Ann Marie (2016). Unintended Lawlessness of Stand Your Ground: Justitia Fiat Coelum Ruat. Wayne Law Review, 61(2): 222265.
Christensen, Dan (2005). NRA Uses Florida Gun Law as National Model. Yahoo News, May 17. <> (accessed March 20, 2016).
Cohen, Cathy J. (2012). Obama, Neoliberalism, and the 2012 Election. Souls, 14(1–2): 1927.
Coker, Donna (2014). ‘Stand Your Ground’ in Context: Race, Gender, and Politics. University of Miami Law Review, 68(4): 943959.
Cusack, Joyce (2005). Florida House of Representatives Floor Debate.
Dawson, Michael C. ( 2011). Not in Our Lifetimes: The Future of Black Politics. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press.
Dawson, Michael C., and Francis, Megan Ming (2015). Black Politics and the Neoliberal Racial Order. Public Culture, 28(1): 2362.
Franks, Mary Anne (2014). Real Men Advance, Real Women Retreat: Stand Your Ground, Battered Women’s Syndrome, and Violence as Male Privilege. University of Miami Law Review, 68(4): 10991128.
Gilens, Martin (2000). Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Goldsby, Jacqueline (2006). A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Goodman, Amy (2012). A Modern-Day Lynching: Outrage Grows over Killing of Trayvon Martin by Neighborhood Watch Patrol, March 20. <> (accessed March 20, 2016).
Harvey, David (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Helmuth, Josh (2016). What Your Need to Know About Missouri’s New ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law. 41 KSHB Kansas City, September 15. <> (accessed May 6, 2017).
Hinton, Elizabeth (2017). From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Johnson, Cedric (Ed.) (2011). The Neoliberal Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, Late Capitalism, and the Remaking of New Orleans. Minneapolis, MN: University Of Minnesota Press.
Kingdon, John W. (2010). Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, Update Edition, with an Epilogue on Health Care. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Kroll, Andy (2012). The Money Trail Behind Florida’s Notorious Gun Law. Mother Jones, March 29. <> (accessed March 20, 2016).
Kyles, Kyra (2018). White Folks Have a New and Improved Lynching Law and They’re Calling It ‘Stand Your Ground.’ The Grio (blog), August 2. <> (accessed August 19, 2018).
Langford, James (2018). Chubb Halts NRA Gun-User Coverage Branded as ‘murder Insurance’ by Critics. Washington Examiner, February 23. <> (accessed December 2, 2018).
Lave, Tamara Rice (2013). Shoot to Kill: A Critical Look at Stand Your Ground Laws. University of Miami Law Review, 67: 827860.
Leo, Richard A., and Thomas, George C. III (Eds) (1999). The Miranda Debate: Law, Justice, and Policing. Boston, MA: Northeastern.
Light, Caroline (2017). Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Mendelberg, Tali (2001). The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Mills, Nicolaus (2013). A Longer Look at the Emmett Till-Trayvon Martin Comparison. Huffington Post (blog), July 17. <> (accessed August 19, 2018).
Montgomery, Ben (2012). Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law Was Born of 2004 Case, But Story Has Been Distorted. Tampa Bay Times, April 14. <> (accessed March 20, 2016).
Murakawa, Naomi (2014). The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America. New York: Oxford University Press.
National Public Radio (2013). Examining the Foundation of “Stand Your Ground” Laws. <> (accessed March 20, 2016).
National Rifle Association (2018). Lockton | NRA Carry Guard. <> (accessed August 7, 2018).
O’Neil, Ann (2012). NRA’s Marion Hammer Stands Her Ground. CNN. <> (accessed March 20, 2016).
Peaden, Durrell (2004). Protection of Persons/Use of Force, Pub. L. No. SB 436.
Phillips, Kristine (2017). Iowa’s Most Expansive Gun Rights Bill Ever Is Now Law. Washington Post, April 18. <> (accessed May 6, 2017).
Prasad, Monica (2006). The Politics of Free Markets: The Rise of Neoliberal Economic Policies in Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Roig-Franzia, Manuel (2005). Florida Gun Law to Expand Leeway for Self-Defense. Washington Post, April 26. <> (accessed March 20, 2016).
Rutl, Meredith (2012). Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Fired in Wake of Trayvon Martin Case. Miami Herald, June 20. <> (accessed March 9, 2017).
CNN (2012). Sanford, Florida, Police Answer Questions About Teen’s Shooting Death. CNN, March 21. <> (accessed March 9, 2017).
Schneider, Anne, and Ingram, Helen (1993). Social Construction of Target Populations: Implications for Politics and Policy. The American Political Science Review, 87(2): 334347.
Shear, Michael D. (2012). Obama Speaks Out on Trayvon Martin Killing. The Caucus, March 23. <> (accessed March 10, 2017).
Soss, Joe, Fording, Richard C., and Schram, Sanford F. (2011). Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Spence, Lester K. (2015). Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics. Brooklyn, New York: Punctum Books.
Spence, Lester K. (2013). The Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics. Souls, 14(3–4): 139159.
Spence, Williams L. (2018). A Magazine Ranked US States’ Gun Laws — and That Led to Legislation in Idaho Today. Idaho Statesman, Jan 31. <> (accessed August 19, 2018).
Stone, Deborah A. (1989). Causal Stories and the Formation of Policy Agendas. Political Science Quarterly, 104(2): 281300.
Strausberg, Chinta (2018). PUSH VP Dr. Yeary Likens ‘Stand Your Ground Law to Lynching’ | Gary/Chicago Crusader. <> (accessed August 19, 2018).
Suk, Jeannie (2015). Self Defense Is Part of Our Heritage. The New York Times, November 18. <> (accessed March 4, 2017).
Tampa Bay Times (2012). Florida Lawmakers Played Fast and Loose for ‘Stand Your Ground.’ Tampa Bay Times, April 16. <> (accessed March 20, 2016).
Van Sant, Will (2004). Thieves Plunder in Charley’s Aftermath. St. Petersburg Times, August 16. <> (accessed March 21, 2016).
Wacquant, Loïc (2009). Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Wagner, Kevin M., Kim, Dukhong, and Hagler, Jeremy C. (2016). Stand Your Ground in Florida: The Effect of Race, Location and Weapons on Convictions. Ralph Bunche Journal of Public Affairs, 5(1): 110.
Weaver, Vesla M. (2007). Frontlash: Race and the Development of Punitive Crime Policy. Studies in American Political Development, 21 (Fall): 230265.
Wells, Ida B. (Ed. by Royster, Jacqueline Jones) (1996). Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Williams, Leo V. (2013). From Lynchings to ‘Stand Your Ground’ Killing. Baltimore Sun. <> (accessed August 19, 2018).
Zimring, Franklin E., Hawkins, Gordon, and Kamin, Sam (2003). Punishment and Democracy: Three Strikes and You’re Out in California. New York: Oxford University Press.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed