You might remember that scene from the Monty Python movie, “In Search of the Holy Grail” where the army is besieging the castle, and various stuff is thrown over the walls. They frequently resort to the oldest battle tactic known to man.
Running away, despite the bad name given to it in grade school circles, is a good tactic. The PSA put out by the federal government recently would have you believe that hiding in place is a good tactic. It’s probably only slightly better than playing dead in the open. Both may get you killed. But running away, at the first hint of trouble, is a good tactic. And some states require it. It’s called a duty to retreat.
We’re discussing the five pillars of self-defense law; they are innocence, imminence, avoidance, reasonableness, and proportionality. Let’s turn to avoidance.
The duty to retreat is an old duty, dating at least to English common law. You had to show that your “back was to the wall” before you were allowed to use deadly force. This is also the time of the “castle doctrine”, that a man’s home was his castle, and you were allowed to defend it against attackers with deadly force without forfeiting your life or goods to the crown. But outside the home, you had to retreat to avoid taking the life of the attacker, if you could. Avoidance became part of the law of self-defense.
States without a duty to retreat began to codify it into law with what became known as “stand your ground” laws. Unfortunately, one of the first, and most famous state laws using the phrase was Florida. I say, unfortunately, because at the same time, they passed a law codifying immunity from civil and criminal liability for justifiable self-defense and the two laws became conflated in the public mind. People thought of “stand your ground” as “shoot first with immunity, if you’re merely afraid, and ask questions later”. It is no such thing. You cannot merely claim “I was afraid for my life” and walk away immune from liability, no matter what a liberal, ignorant press corps says. There remain 4 other hurdles to a self-defense claim; you still have to show innocence, imminence, reasonableness, and proportionality. The only benefit of a stand your ground law is that it permanently removes the question of your duty to retreat.
NO state requires you to increase your danger by utilizing an unsafe avenue of retreat. For example, you are not required anywhere to run across a busy 4-lane highway to escape an attacker. You only have a duty to retreat if a safe avenue of retreat exists.
The difficulty, though, is that a safe avenue of retreat may not be easy to see during the stress of the attack. A prosecutor, however, in the calm of the courtroom, protected by armed bailiffs, can easily produce a colored diagram showing several avenues of retreat which were available to you at the time. Removing that legal jeopardy, and the need to concentrate on it during an attack, is the purpose of “stand your ground” laws.
But even in “stand your ground” states, if a safe avenue of retreat exists, take it. Why take another human life, and risk losing your freedom (if somehow you fail to meet one of the other standards, or if the prosecutor is up for re-election, and you look like good publicity)? Run away. If you try to avoid the attack, and can show that you did, then your self-defense claim is strengthened if you defend your life with deadly force. You may not have a duty to retreat in your state (check your state’s laws), but avoidance when safe to do so is the best answer. Then when your back is really to the wall, you can rely on your training and your legally carried handgun to help you out of a bad situation. You did bring a gun, didn’t you?