Aug 12 6:52 PM

‘Stand your ground’ states see increase in homicides

Rallies like this one in Atlanta have called for an end to “stand your ground” laws after Florida teen Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer who invoked the shoot-first doctrine.
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

States that desire to combat violent crime or reduce overall homicide rates should either repeal or refuse to enact “stand your ground” legislation, according to a recent report issued by a task force commissioned by the American Bar Association [PDF].

The National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws, convened in 2013, conducted a comprehensive and multidisciplinary review of the impact of “stand your ground” legislation on public safety, individual liberties, and the criminal justice system.  

The 62-page report, issued on Friday, found that “stand your ground” laws, which vary from state to state, obstruct law enforcement, confuse law enforcement personnel, and disproportionately affect minorities.

“Stand your ground” legislation has failed to deter crime, and, in fact, has led to an increase in homicides, the report said. States with “stand your ground” laws experienced an 8 percent increase in the number of homicides compared with states without such laws.

Dr. Jerry Ratcliffe, a professor at and the chair of the department of criminal justice at Temple University, saw the report’s conclusions as unequivocal. “If our aim is to increase criminal justice system costs, increase medical costs, increase racial tension, maintain our high adolescent death rate and put police officers at greater risk, then this is good legislation,” Ratcliffe said. “There is no reliable and credible evidence to support laws that encourage ‘stand your ground.’”

Currently, 33 states have in place “stand your ground” legislation, which substantially expands the bounds of self-defense law. The terminology entered popular lexicon when George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin in 2012 in Florida.

Since then, “stand your ground” laws have come under intense scrutiny, particularly by those who say the laws endanger young black men.

Under “stand your ground,” individuals who reasonably believe they are facing an imminent threat of bodily harm may use force to defend themselves, including the use of deadly force. There is no legal duty to retreat, even when safe to do so, an element that marks a significant and troubling departure from traditional self-defense rules.

Critics of the law say that it promotes a shoot-first mentality.

A former military officer cited in the report pointed to the absurdity of encouraging deadly force in public spaces. “Stand your ground” laws, he said, provide a more lenient rule for a civilians’ use of a firearm than is available to a police officer or even a soldier at war.

“It is troubling that under ‘stand your ground,’ there are less restrictions imposed on U.S. service members using deadly force when they return to the United States, than when they are deployed in a combat environment,” Christopher Jenks, an assistant professor of law at Southern Methodist University and director of the school’s Criminal Justice Clinic, said in the report.

The task force also found that “stand your ground” laws reinforce racial bias due to cultural stereotypes about certain racial groups being more threatening. In instances where a white shooter kills a black victim, that homicide was 350 percent more likely to be ruled as justified under “stand your ground,” than if a white shooter killed a white person.

Both police officers and prosecutors uniformly expressed confusion over how to enforce these laws, the report said, a reality that is leading to widespread opposition from law enforcement personnel towards “stand your ground” laws.

Among other suggestions, the task force encouraged the ABA to develop a national public education campaign with the aim of providing accurate information about “stand your ground” laws.

Dr. Gary Kleck, a noted pro-gun researcher and staunch advocate for Second Amendment rights, said, “There is little or no need for a gun for self-protection [for most Americans] because there’s so little risk of crime. People don’t believe it, but it’s true,” the report quoted him as saying. “You just can’t convince most Americans they’re not at serious risk.” 

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