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What 'Stand Your Ground' Laws Mean in Missouri

How Senate Bill 656 affects gun owners’ carrying, usage and defending of themselves

In recent years, “stand your ground” laws have been enacted in a number of different jurisdictions throughout the country. In fact, according to data provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), at least 25 different states have some form of “stand your ground” law on the books.

While there are certainly many similarities in these statutes, all gun owners should know that the “stand your ground” laws do vary from state to state. Therefore, you need to understand the law in your own jurisdiction.

Missouri Senate Bill 656

Before the “stand your ground” law went into effect, guns owners in Missouri who were facing a safety threat from another party had a duty of retreat—assuming it was possible to do so; under the old system, one could only use deadly force in self-defense if retreat was not possible.

That is no longer the case: As of Jan. 1, 2017, Missouri Senate Bill 656 went into effect.

If a person is in a place where they are permitted to be, whether it is their home or in public, they have the right to use deadly force in self-defense or in defense of another innocent party—even if they potentially had the opportunity to safely retreat.

To be clear, a person can only use deadly force in defense if they have a reasonable fear that the alleged offender is threatening them, or another innocent person, with deadly force. Further, a person who is deemed to be the aggressor in a confrontation that turns deadly will be deemed ineligible to raise a “stand your ground” defense. 

Raising a “Stand Your Ground” Defense is Complicated

Under Missouri law, “stand your ground” is an affirmative defense. Essentially, this means the defendant, while potentially conceding the underlying allegations, presents facts which, under state law, justifies or excuses any criminal liability. There are very strict procedurals requirements for raising an affirmative defense.

For obvious reasons, police officers and prosecutors may be skeptical of a “stand your ground” claim after a fatal shooting. Defendants seeking to raise this defense should speak to an experienced Missouri criminal defense lawyer immediately.

The bottom line? Even with Missouri Senate Bill 656, “stand your ground” is a complicated legal defense. Prosecutors may view the case differently and, for whatever reason, decide that the defense does not apply. They may push forward with serious criminal charges—even murder charges.

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of criminal defense and assault & battery.

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