Stand Your Ground: A History of America's Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense
Today the United States represents about 5% of the world’s population but possesses approximately 40% of its guns. We also experience the highest number of mass shootings, which represent only a small fraction of our annual gun deaths. Perhaps ironically, the spread of guns and naturalization of gun deaths is linked to a widespread acceptance of self-defense, the right to fight back with lethal force when one feels threatened.
Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair With Lethal Self-Defense explores the complex path by which the English common law “duty to retreat” from threat was transformed into a selective right to kill. Caroline Light will discuss how our nation’s history influences contemporary understandings of vulnerability and threat, and how appeals to race, gender, and class difference shape the adjudication of self-defense cases. In the process, Light seeks to illuminate a history hidden in plain sight, by showing how violent self-defense has been legalized for the most privileged while weaponized against the most vulnerable.
Caroline Light is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Harvard’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. She was born in Charlottesville, Virginia and completed her undergraduate degree in history at Duke University. She earned her doctorate in history from the University of Kentucky, and her work explores the ways in which race, gender, and region shape collective (mis)memory and archival silence. Her first book, That Pride of Race and Character: the Roots of Jewish Benevolence in the Jim Crow South explores how gendered and racialized performances of elite, white cultural capital served as a critical mode of survival for a racially liminal community of southerners.