Two recent studies have found that so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws lead to more deaths. These findings contradict some claims made by right-wing politicians that have pushed these bills into law, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Rifle Association (NRA). These laws have come under increased scrutiny since Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law was initially cited to protect Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman.
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a private non-profit and the largest economics research organization in the United States, recently released a working paper that examines the claims of those who say "Stand Your Ground" laws make our streets safer, and concludes that states that pass Stand Your Ground laws see a combined increase of between 4 and 8 additional deaths each month. Researchers from Texas A&M University also released a study last month finding states that passed the laws saw an increase in homicides between 7 and 9 percent annually, which amounts to between 500 and 700 homicides cumulatively, with no drop in violent crime rates.
As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, Florida passed a "Stand Your Ground" law in 2005 at the behest of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its lobbyist Marion Hammer. Hammer promptly brought the law to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where it was adopted unanimously as a "model" bill. ALEC and the NRA then helped promote its passage in statehouses around the country.
The laws alter the common law "Castle Doctrine" that for decades has recognized a right of self-defense in one's home. The ALEC/NRA model bill changes state law from recognizing a right to assert self-defense in front of a jury, to one that grants legal immunity in criminal or civil cases for people who claim they believed the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or grave harm to themselves or others. The laws make it harder to prosecute killings and make it more difficult for a victim's family to pursue a civil case.
Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), an ALEC member and a sponsor of the 2005 "Stand Your Ground" bill, said in an interview shortly after the passage of the law that by passing the law, "I hope to minimize the number of victims, that's what I'm after." Earlier this year, speaking on the Lehrer News Hour, Rep. Baxley claimed that the law has "saved thousands of people's lives."
The facts suggest otherwise.
"Stand Your Ground" Laws Equal More Deaths
Chandler B. McClellan and Erdal Tekin, the authors of the NBER working paper, found that the law's provision that extends the doctrine "to any place a person has a legal right to be ... causes the increase in homicides." They looked at the 18 states that closely followed the ALEC/NRA "model" bill and extended immunity to people who use force anywhere they have a "right to be," and compared them to states that passed versions of the law without such provisions.
McClellan and Tekin claim their analysis ruled out other explanations for their findings, such as national homicide rates. "Trends in homicide rates are fairly similar across states that passed SYG laws and those that did not prior to passage of these laws," they wrote.
In the wake of Trayvon Martin's killing, issues of race surrounded the controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws (Martin was African-American and his killer George Zimmerman is a white Hispanic). However, McClellan and Tekin found that Stand Your Ground laws primarily result in an increase in firearm-related deaths among whites, particularly white males. "We find no evidence these laws cause an increase in homicides among blacks," the authors wrote.
Another Study Finds Similar Increase in Homicide and No Drop in Other Crimes
Researchers Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra of Texas A&M's Department of Economics conducted a similar analysis, and considered whether the laws reduce annual homicides and crime rates based on FBI Uniform Crime Reports (McClellan and Tekin used monthly data from the U.S. Vital Statistics).
Cheng and Hoekstra stated: "We find the [Stand Your Ground] laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant 7 to 9 percent, which translates into an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the states that adopted [the laws]." Additionally, the authors said they found "no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault."
The laws "do not appear to offer any hidden spillover benefit to society at large," the report says.
Florida has created a special commission to review the state's Stand Your Ground law, but according to statements made by politicians defending the law so far, it appears that the NRA's rhetoric about the law continues to be deployed without regard to the empirical evidence about the actual effects of the laws. Not surprisingly, Florida's commission is stacked with ALEC members.