Studies: “Stand Your Ground” laws increase homicides, do not lower violent crime rates

A new meta-analysis of 25 studies of so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws finds they raise rather than lower violent crime rates, contribute to more homicides and are applied in a racially unequal way.

The analysis, published earlier this month in the American Journal of Public Health, looked at “expanded civilian rights to use deadly force in self-defense outside the home” in various U.S. states.”

Researchers found the laws do not tend to deter violent crime. In fact, “[i]n at least some US states, most notably Florida, stand-your-ground laws have been associated with increases in homicides and there has been racial bias in the application of legal protections.”

From the report:

Since 2005, most of the United States have adopted stand-your-ground laws. These laws expand people’s right to use deadly force in self-defense anywhere they may legally be without first attempting to retreat. To understand how such laws may affect public health and safety, we searched for all evidence on the impacts of laws that expand or restrict the right to use deadly force in self-defense. We identified 25 studies that examined the impacts of stand-your-ground laws and other expansions to self-defense laws on violence, crime, and firearm use and demand in the United States. An additional 7 studies looked at the outcomes of self-defense cases involving stand-your-ground claims in Florida. Evidence from our review suggests that expanding people’s right to use deadly force has not reduced crime on average across the United States. In at least some US states, most notably Florida, stand-your-ground laws have been associated with increases in homicides and there has been racial bias in the application of legal protections. More research is needed on how the impacts of these laws on violence, injury, and criminal justice differ by race and gender across states. Our results demonstrate the importance of using scientific evidence on how laws may have an impact on the overall population and social justice in law and policymaking.

Despite this research, the Duke Center for Firearms Law notes, states continue to keep such laws on the books — and pass new ones.

“Despite such evidence, much of which has been well-known for years, states are continuing to adopt stand-your-ground laws—most recently in Ohio,” Center Executive Director Jake Charles wrote last week. “This trend is part of a larger project of statutory gun-rights expansion that I chronicle and describe in, Securing Gun Rights By Statute: The Right To Keep and Bear Arms Outside the Constitution, forthcoming in the Michigan Law Review.:

“The disjunction between what the social science shows and what states are doing may also be evidence for Dan Kahan’s theory that the debate over gun rights and regulation is not about whoever has the better empirical argument, but over culture,” Charles wrote. “Instead of data and statistics, Kahan argues, it is “cultural allegiances and outlooks that determine citizens’ attitudes toward gun control.”


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