No, President Obama Didn't Support a "Stand Your Ground" Law in Illinois

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 22 2013 9:38 AM

No, President Obama Didn't Support a "Stand Your Ground" Law in Illinois

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President Obama, as a state senator, supported the notion that a man's home is his castle—but a man's sidewalk? We don't know, because he never voted for "stand your ground."

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The Illinois Review makes a find that's been bouncing around conservative social media all day. "Nine years ago," argue the authors, "then-State Sen. Barack Obama actually co-sponsored a bill that strengthened Illinois' 1961 'stand your ground' law." If true, this would render hypocritical or null so much of the presidential palaver about the NRA-supported gun law. Wouldn't it?

Oh, you can probably guess the twist. Illinois' 2004 SB2386 was passed by a unanimous vote in the state Senate. It amended a self-defense law first passed in 1961. Alarm bells should be ringing at this point, because Florida was pretty famously the first state to pass a "stand your ground" law, a year after this Illinois bill. Have reporters been blowing that story? No: "Stand your ground" is substantively different than what Obama backed in Illinois. He backed a tweak to the "castle doctrine," which reads like this:

A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate such other's trespass on or other tortious or criminal interference with her real property (other than a dwelling) or personal property, lawfully in his possession or in the possession of another who is a member of his immediate family or household or of a person whose property he has a legal duty to protect.

"Stand your ground" takes the concept of the castle doctrine and turns it into a traveling force field of sorts. Here's Florida's language:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

It's a pretty obvious difference, which probably means that the "Obama used to support this" theory is essentially trolling. "Stand your ground" isn't actually in any danger in Florida; David Freddoso makes the impolitic but worthwhile argument that "if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed," the law would have applied to him. He wasn't in his house or on his own property, and neither was George Zimmerman when he confronted him. But our current political contretemps is over the president and Democrats and some celebrities suddenly attacking "stand your ground"—I guess this odd theory has developed to tamp it all down.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.