Holder devoted part of his speech at the NAACP's national convention on Tuesday to urging attendees to reconsider the laws, which remove the "duty to retreat" before using deadly force for people who are attacked in public places.
Neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman initially wasn't arrested after he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012 because of the state's "stand your ground" statute. Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted of any crime in the shooting on Saturday, with one juror citing "stand your ground" as part of her decision to find him not guilty.
Holder said "stand your ground" laws "senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods." He added, "There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if—and the 'if' is important—no safe retreat is available." He urged America to "take a hard look" at the laws.
The NRA blasted the comments in a statement on Wednesday.
"The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept, it's a fundamental human right," said Chris Cox, the NRA's legislative director. "To send a message that legitimate self-defense is to blame is unconscionable, and demonstrates once again that this administration will exploit tragedies to push their political agenda."
The NRA backs the "stand your ground" laws, which have been adopted by at least 22 states in just the past 10 years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
After the Martin shooting and subsequent uproar, a coalition of civil rights groups and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the nation's highest-profile gun-control advocate, started a campaign, called "Second Chance on Shoot First," to encourage the repeal of these laws. Soon after, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, appointed a task force to study the law. Meanwhile, lawmakers in at least four states with "stand your ground" laws introduced legislation to alter or repeal their laws.
But not much has happened since then on the state level. The Florida task force recommended no significant changes to the law, and no state repeal efforts passed.
A Tampa Bay Times analysis of 200 "stand your ground" cases in Florida—the law was adopted there in 2005—found that the law has been inconsistently applied, with one man escaping homicide prosecution even though he left an altercation to get his gun from his car, returned and then shot the attacker.
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