Supporters of a stand-your-ground law claim
the measure would make the public safer by making it easier for people to defend themselves from criminals, but the
research so far shows the law might weaken public safety in a few key areas and actually increase the amount of homicides.
On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Ohio House passed sweeping gun legislation that would impose a stand-your-ground law in the state. The bill now requires approval from the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich to become law.
Stand-your-ground laws remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense in places in which a person is lawfully allowed. Current Ohio law only maintains a traditional “castle doctrine,” which removes the duty to retreat only at a person’s home or vehicle.
The laws have grown particularly controversial following the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida, where a stand-your-ground law exists but supposedly played a minor role in the trial that allowed Zimmerman to go free.
Regardless of what drove Zimmerman to his actions or allowed him to go free, three major studies found stand-your-ground laws might increase violence and widen racial disparities in the U.S. justice system.
A June 2012 paper from National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and Texas A&M University researchers concluded, “Results indicate (castle doctrine and stand-your-ground) laws do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters.” The study looked at FBI Uniform Crime Reports from 2000 to 2010 for 21 states, including 17 states with stand-your-ground laws and four states, including Ohio, with castle doctrine laws that only apply to a person’s home and vehicle.
Another June 2012 paper from NBER stated, “Our results indicate that Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males. According to our estimates, between 28 and 33 additional white males are killed each month as a result of these laws. We find no consistent evidence to suggest that these laws increase homicides among blacks.” The study looked at monthly data from U.S. Vital Statistics to gauge the effect of stand-your-ground laws on homicides and firearm injuries, with supplemental analysis of data from FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports and the Health Care Utilization Project.
A July 2013 study from the left-leaning Urban Institute found “homicides with a white perpetrator and a black victim are ten times more likely to be ruled justified than cases with a black perpetrator and a white victim, and the gap is larger in states with Stand Your Ground laws.” According to the findings, stand-your-ground states are more likely to legally justify white-on-white, white-on-black and black-on-black homicides but not black-on-white homicides. For the study, the Urban Institute used FBI Supplementary Homicide Report data for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., dated between 2005 and 2010.
When confronted with such statistics, supporters of
stand-your-ground laws typically note that violent crime rates dropped in the states that adopted the laws. But, as PolitiFact Florida pointed out in response to Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley, violent crime began dropping before stand-your-ground laws were passed.
The nationwide violent crime rate dropped from 757.7 to 386.3 between 1992 and 2011, with more than half of the drop occurring between 1992 and 1999, according to FBI crime data. The June 2012 paper from NBER found more than 20 states passed traditional castle doctrine or stand-your-ground laws between 2000 and 2010, after the violent crime rate began to drop.
The research could show correlation instead of causation. Perhaps some unnamed factor in states that adopted stand-your-ground laws makes it more likely that they’ll see increases in homicides or racial disparities, even as violent crime declines. But, at the very least, it doesn’t seem supporters of stand-your-ground laws have the empirical evidence on their side.