A study released recently by Texas A&M University economists found no decrease in crime in states that passed stand your ground laws, but rather a measurable increase in homicides.
Stand your ground laws, also known as expanded castle doctrine, vary by state but typically give the right to a person who feels threatened to shoot or otherwise attack a potential assailant, without having a lawful duty to first try to retreat.
Proponents of the laws say they give upstanding citizens the right to protect themselves from thugs and criminals. However, professors Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra crunched the numbers and found an increase in homicides of 7 to 9 percent in states that pass stand your ground laws, relative to states that don’t. In total, the study found about 500 to 700 extra killings per year in the 23 states that have the laws.
The report found no decrease in crime in stand your ground states relative to others.
In a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research released last June, Georgia State University economists also found a bump in homicides for stand your ground states.
The Gun Owners of America responded by calling the Texas A&M study biased, telling Salon, “Even though homicide rates would NOT seem to be connected to the passage of Castle Doctrine laws in a state in any significant way, the biased researchers conclude that ‘castle doctrine increases homicide.’ But how exactly does giving people greater legal protections in defending their homes result in more homicides?”
Study author Hoekstra defended the study’s findings, saying, “We use non-adopting states as a control group; the changes they experience over time form our best estimate as to what would have happened to adopting states had they not passed the laws. The data, which are publicly available from the FBI, indicate that homicide rates rose in adopting states relative to non-adopting states after the passage of the laws.”
In Florida, whose stand your ground law has received national attention since last year’s shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a lawmaker recently introduced a bill to repeal the controversial measure. “I’m a proponent of constitutional right to bear arms but we have to reconcile that faith in society with giving the folks the ability to hide behind the law,” State Rep. Alan Williams said.
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer, a law professor at Northern Kentucky University, notes on the PrawfsBlawg that the true defects in stand your ground laws are not that they take away the duty to retreat, but that they shield killers who claim self-defense from having to explain their actions. Acts of self-defense and the duty to retreat in a specific situation can be and are considered on a case-by-case basis during trials in any state. However, laws such as Florida’s have provisions where shooters can avoid prosecution altogether.
“While self-defense conventionally is just that — a defense, to be raised at trial — self-defense under the Florida law acts as an immunity from prosecution or even arrest,” Mannheimer writes. “This odd provision means that a person who uses deadly force in self-defense cannot be tried, even though the highly fact-intensive question of whether the person acted in self-defense is usually hashed out at trial. The law thus creates a paradox: the State must make a highly complex factual determination before being permitted to avail itself of the forum necessary to make such a determination.”
What’s more, the law can effectively block the police from even investigating properly. “Not only that, [the stand your ground law] provides immunity from arrest unless the police have ‘probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful,’” the professor says. “Again, the law creates a Catch-22: police cannot arrest the suspect unless they have probable cause, not just to believe there was a killing, but also that the killing was not in self-defense; and where, as is often the case, the defendant is the only living witness to the alleged crime, the police likely will not be able to form probable cause without interrogating the suspect.”
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