A fundamental principle of the English Common Law held, “A man’s home is his castle. Attacked there, he need not retreat.”

Because the English Common Law is a cornerstone of American jurisprudence, it is woven into the warp and woof of self-defense law and caselaw that applies to people who have to use deadly force in defense of themselves and others in the United States. It is explained in detail in Black’s Legal Dictionary, which can be found in almost any bookstore or public library, and also in the powerfully authoritative Warren on Homicide, which can generally only be accessed in well-stocked legal libraries.

The general public seems to believe that only attorneys and law students can access legal libraries, but the fact is you can find one in the county courthouse in almost every county seat community in America. They’re only open on weekdays, so set aside a day off, or a vacation day, for your first trip and don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to spend even more time there.

Look up all the relevant law and caselaw on weapons, homicide in all its forms (murder, manslaughter, etc., and of course, justifiable homicide), assault–particularly aggravated assault and assault with a deadly weapon. You want to look up anything that discusses self-defense or defense of others. Don’t be embarrassed to ask the legal librarian: it has been my experience that they are initially surprised that a lay person who doesn’t have a pending case is asking about this sort of thing, but they are generally delighted that the ordinary taxpayers who paid for the library (and who pay their salaries) have taken an interest. “Retreat requirement,” is what the “castle doctrine” is really about.

Basis of Misunderstandings

Many states used to hold it as law that if one was attacked outside his or her home, he or she was duty bound to retreat or attempt to retreat before using deadly force in defense of themselves, or someone they had the right to protect. Other states had long held that if a citizen was attacked in any place where they had a right to be, retreat was not required. A number of states in the last few years have passed laws that rescind this “retreat requirement.”

Unfortunately, there has been much misunderstanding about that. A lot of it has been spread on Internet forums related to gun ownership and self-defense. A myth has arisen that the retraction of the retreat requirement means that anyone who simply says he was afraid of someone, is automatically presumed justified in killing that someone. That is, of course, totally false! Ironically, this myth arose largely from the anti-gun lobby, which used this exaggeration to oppose the withdrawal of the retreat requirement. The anti-gun lobby has a long history of twisting the truth, and this was merely one more example of that well-established tendency.

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