Majority support "stand your ground" laws, poll shows

The shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has raised questions about "stand your ground" laws that are in effect in half the states in the country.

More than half of the nation supports "stand your ground" laws, but divisions over the controversial state-based policy break down along racial and partisan lines, a new survey shows.

Fifty-three percent of Americans support "stand your ground laws," according to a new Quinnipiac poll, while 40 percent oppose them. The law, in place in at least 21 states, dictates that a person who is threatened with physical harm is under no obligation to retreat.

Controversy over the policy exploded after it was cited in the case of Florida man George Zimmerman, who in 2012 shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old. Martin's shooting and the Zimmerman trial raised uneasy questions about race and justice and put a spotlight on the evidence of potential racial bias in "stand your ground" laws.

The Quinnipiac survey shows that white voters support "stand your ground" laws, 57 percent to 37 percent, while black voters feel just the opposite -- they oppose the laws, 57 percent to 37 percent. Men support the laws (62 percent to 34 percent) while women are divided (44 percent support them, while 47 percent oppose them).

Three-quarters of Republicans are in favor of the "stand your ground" laws, while 62 percent of Democrats are against them. Independents back the policy, 57 percent to 37 percent.

After Zimmerman was found not guilty for Martin's murder, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against the laws, saying, "It's time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods. These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if - and the 'if' is important - no safe retreat is available."