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The Law for Defending Yourself in Public in California

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In the United States, the common law principle known as the “castle doctrine” allows individuals to use deadly force, if reasonable, to protect themselves from home intruders. Variations of the castle doctrine are the law of the land in all but a handful of states. But in recent years, a number of states have expanded on the principle, allowing individuals to use deadly force in public spaces under certain circumstances, even if they have the option to safely retreat. These statutes are commonly known as “stand your ground” or “shoot first” laws.

Unlike the castle doctrine, which is deeply rooted in historical precedent, stand your ground laws represent a meaningful departure from American legal tradition. According to gun control advocacy group Giffords Law Center, stand your ground laws increase the likelihood of avoidable violence and death — especially if firearms are involved, which, in states with these laws and weak gun control regulations, they often are.

California is a state that does not have stand your ground laws on the books, but where legal precedent allows those who face prosecution for using deadly force to protect themselves in public when a safe retreat was possible to use stand your ground principles as a defense. However, concealed carry of a firearm is illegal without a permit in the state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 3,576 firearm-related fatalities in California in 2021, or 9.0 for every 100,000 people, the eighth lowest gun death rate among the 50 states.

All data in this story on stand your ground laws and concealed carry regulations is from Gifford’s Law Center, a gun control advocacy group. It is important to note that policy details can vary by jurisdiction.

StateStand your ground laws?Permitless concealed carry of a firearmFirearm deaths per 100,000 people, 2021Total firearm deaths, 2021AlabamaYesLegal26.41,315AlaskaYesLegal25.2182ArizonaYesLegal18.31,365ArkansasYesLegal23.3698CaliforniaNo (some protections from legal precedent)Illegal9.03,576ColoradoNo (some protections from legal precedent)Illegal17.81,064ConnecticutNoIllegal6.7248DelawareNoIllegal16.6158FloridaYesLegal14.13,142GeorgiaYesLegal20.32,200HawaiiNoIllegal4.871IdahoYesLegal16.3309IllinoisNo (some protections from legal precedent)Illegal16.11,995IndianaYesLegal18.41,251IowaYesLegal11.2364KansasYesLegal17.3503KentuckyYesLegal21.1947LouisianaYesIllegal (with exceptions)29.11,314MaineNoLegal12.6178MarylandNoIllegal15.2915MassachusettsNoIllegal3.4247MichiganYesIllegal15.41,544MinnesotaNoIllegal10.0573MississippiYesLegal33.9962MissouriYesLegal23.21,414MontanaYesLegal25.1280NebraskaNoLegal (effective Sept. 2023)10.3200NevadaYesIllegal19.8633New HampshireYesLegal8.3123New JerseyNoIllegal5.2475New MexicoNo (some protections from legal precedent)Illegal27.8578New YorkNoIllegal5.41,078North CarolinaYesIllegal17.31,839North DakotaYesLegal16.8128OhioYesLegal16.51,911OklahomaYesLegal21.2836OregonNo (some protections from legal precedent)Illegal14.9670PennsylvaniaYesIllegal14.81,905Rhode IslandNoIllegal5.664South CarolinaYesIllegal22.41,136South DakotaYesLegal14.3128TennesseeYesLegal22.81,569TexasYesLegal15.64,613UtahYesLegal13.9450VermontNo (some protections from legal precedent)Legal11.983VirginiaNo (some protections from legal precedent)Illegal14.31,248WashingtonNo (some protections from legal precedent)Illegal11.2896West VirginiaYesLegal17.3319WisconsinNoIllegal13.5793WyomingYesLegal26.1155

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