"Stand Your Ground" laws increase homicides

Yes, yes, I know this is not going to surprise some of you. Many of us said Stand Your Ground legislation was basically going to bring back the Old West. But others disagreed vehemently.

The ABA just completed a metastudy that found:

They also apparently found (but did not present as “a finding” that “empirical evidence shows that states with statutory Stand Your Ground laws have not decreased theft, burglary, or assault crimes.”

Now, the ABA is pretty generally left leaning, and mostly but not exclusively anti-gun. I also suspect the ABA was not a proponent of this type of legislation in the first place.

We can skip all that, though, because really it’s only the first finding - an increase in homicides - that matters.


I think it is even more notable that the increase in homicides was most pronounced among white men. That suggests that it wasn’t some other increase in crime that happened to be causing the increase.

[ol][li]I read thru some of the draft of the report to which you linked, but I didn’t see any specific cites to the empirical studies they allege. Are there links to the journals in which these studies have been published (assuming they have been)? [/li][li]What exactly are they saying when they allege “an increase in homicides”? Are these cases where the shooter would have been convicted of murder or manslaughter without SYG laws? How do they know that they would have been convicted? Are these cases where the shooter would (before SYG) would have run away when attacked, but now (under SYG) shot and killed his or her assailant? If so, then [list=a][]Again, how do they know that, and []They are taking it for granted that it’s a Bad Thing, whereas it is debatable.[/ol][/list][/li]Regards,

There are four primary sources listed on page 20 of the PDF and following. It looks like the GSU one counted all homicides. The fourth one (Tampa Bay Times) did the sort of comparison you describe. The second and third seem to have been counting only criminal homicides.

The first paper was published here: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18187

Looks like you have to pay.

I got access to the paper. They use the US Vital Statistics records, which go by death certificates. So Shodan is correct that a “homicide” in this case is any killing by a human. It does not take into account whether the homicide was committed in self-defense. That’s obviously a major flaw here, since the whole purpose of the law is to better protect the right of self-defense.

I read through the linked article up to the legislative recommendations towards the end.

I wasn’t impressed or persuaded. Much of what they state is identified as anecdotal within the paper itself. Some of that anecdotal presentation contradicts earlier findings. There are a great many quotes from people talking about their experience, what they believe, what they feel. Moreover, the vast majority of respondents and sources of information are clearly anti-gun or pro gun-control from the outset. Essentially a bunch of folks who are anti-gun gather together to talk about how bad stand your ground laws are.

Note that the second study looks at FBI data on actual criminal homicide and negligent manslaughter, so it does control for self-defense.

Here’s a link to that study: http://econweb.tamu.edu/mhoekstra/castle_doctrine.pdf

Hence my request that we focus on the empirically verified finding:

The Texas A & M study cited - am I correct in thinking that they are saying SYG causes an increase in murder and non-negligent homicide? That seems odd, especially since they claim SYG does not have a deterrent effect on other kinds of crimes. IOW criminals are smart enough to kill someone in hopes that SYG means they will get away with it, but not smart enough to refrain from robbing someone because SYG means the victim will get away with it.

The Urban Institute study is saying (IIReadC) that white shooters of blacks are more likely to be acquitted in states with SYG. I can think of a couple of problems with this -
[ul][li]Worse case - maybe states with SYG are just more racist overall, and therefore acquit whites more often, and SYG is just another excuse. [/li][li]Better case - don’t they have to establish that the acquitals are miscarriages of justice, and that they should have been convicted instead, rather than merely assuming it? ISTM that more acquitals of people who would otherwise have been convicted is an intended consequence of SYG. The ABA ought not to be saying ‘the law is doing what it is supposed to and therefore should be revoked’ - they should demonstrate somehow that the acquitals were not justified.[/ul][/li]
And the fourth study, from the Tampa Bay Times, I was a little surprised to see included in a paper put out by lawyers.

First off were a couple of statements that triggered unseemly giggles on my part:

This is news to a lawyer?

More seriously -

I wonder how the ABA would react if the law were amended so that previous arrests and accusations against their clients could be taken into account before deciding on whether or not to convict in cases where SYG was asserted as a defense.


Homicide as defined by the study that Richard Parker linked to was, “the sum of murder and non-negligent manslaughter”. It specifically limited itself to illegal activities. It excludes justifiable homicide, as well as homicide where no crime was committed.

**Shodan’s **observations notwithstanding - simply pointing to an increase in homicide is not necessarily informative. And I don’t think it’s practical to ignore the obvious slant of the presented paper since it colors the characterization of the findings presented, as well as casts doubt on the ability to present information honestly. IMO, of course.

Even if we were to concede the premise, that certain SYG laws increase overall homicides, and don’t deter other specific crimes, it wouldn’t make a meaningful difference. No one should be forced to retreat by an aggressor from a place they have a right to be. SYG recognizes that. Fiat justitia ruat caelum and all that.

You might want to come up with something slightly less pablum-ish if you’re trying to justify a policy which increases killings (maybe).

Something else to keep in mind is that, at least in the case of Florida, the rise in homicides shortly after the passage of SYG lasted for about two years, and was followed by a return to the previous trend of declining violent crime rates. And the crime rate in Florida in 2012 was lower than it was in 2005, for a variety of reasons of which some are not understood.

IOW crime rates were decreasing, they passed SYG, crime rates rose for two years, and then resumed their decline after that. Whatever effect SYG had on Florida seems to have disappeared by now. So perhaps the ABA needn’t fret.


On preview - cite.

No one is ever forced to retreat by an aggressor. They always have the choice of dying instead. Stand your ground laws increase the chance of that choice coming to pass.

I think the notion is that with SYG laws more people engage in “self-defense” that doesn’t actually meet the requirements of self-defense. But I haven’t dug into the data far enough to say whether that hypothesis is supported by the details.

That’s the impression I got as well. Although it would only apply for two years or so after the law was passed. After that, criminals wised up (or something) and the rates resumed their fall.


I’ll take your word for the data interpretation, as I haven’t looked at it. But isn’t that pretty close to what we would expect? A new self-defense law is announced, and it gets rid of the duty to retreat, so suddenly there’s a bunch more putative self-defense taking place and some proportion of it was improper. After a few years, with modified gun training and news stories, people start to learn the contours of justifiable self-defense better.

Sure, that’s a possible scenario. But it’s kind of dishonest for the ABA to call for the revocation of a law based on an effect that has already disappeared.

From the OP -

As mentioned, this is half true. They apparently increased for a couple of years, and then resumed their decline,and are now lower than they were before SYG.

No doubt that’s true.

As mentioned, the report mentions plea bargains as another example of a factor that makes criminal defenses outcomes uneven, and they seem rather to have assumed than proved that racial disparities are a result of SYG.

Sez them. These are value judgments, and the ABA is not better qualified to pronounce on them than legislators, or regular citizens.


Does the ABA call for revocation? AFAICT, most of their recommendations are about modifying SYG laws to improve them.

It’s possible that the initial hype about SYG laws made criminals more likely to kill what were originally intended to be robbery victims, since they’re more wary of being shot themselves. Once it became apparent that the risk was not measurably increased, this wore off.

[Note, when I say “it’s possible” I mean this is some idea that just popped into my head. I have no idea if there’s any real basis for it, and don’t intend to find out. I offer it here solely for the consideration of others who are looking at this more closely.]