Sunday, January 20, 2013

Matter of Life or Death

Matthew T. Mangino
January 18, 2013

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post wrote recently that President Barack Obama’s “gun proposals are a matter of life and death.” There are already laws on the books in many states across the country that lawmakers have argued are “a matter of life and death.” Those laws, the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground, are under growing scrutiny.

Though the laws vary in application state by state, each are founded on the idea that law-abiding citizens have the right to defend themselves. In some states the "duty to retreat" from danger, even in public, has been eliminated by lawmakers. As of last summer at least 24 states have passed some form of self-defense legislation.

Florida was the first state to pass a sweeping Stand Your Ground statute. The law gained international notoriety with the killing of Trayvon Martin. However, last week, state Rep. Alan Williams filed a bill proposing a full repeal of the law, saying the law discouraged people from making a responsible threat assessment.

There are a steady stream of stories about killings that may not have occurred but for the introduction of the Castle Doctrine or Stand Your Ground. According to the Christian Science Monitor, an unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Davis was allegedly shot and killed in Florida by an adult man after an argument about a loud car stereo outside a convenience store.

In March 2012, a homeowner in Wisconsin discovered an unarmed 20-year-old on his porch early one morning. According to friends, the man was trying to evade police responding to a noise complaint at a neighboring underage drinking party. The homeowner shot and killed the man, thinking he was a burglar. The shooter was not charged by the local district attorney, reported ProPublica.
In April, 22-year-old Cordell Jude shot and killed Daniel Adkins Jr., a pedestrian who walked in front of Jude’s car just as Jude was pulling up to the window of a Taco Bell drive-thru in Arizona, reported ProPublica. Jude claimed Adkins had waved his arms in the air, wielding what Jude thought was a metal pipe—it was actually a dog leash. Jude shot the 29-year-old Adkins, who was mentally disabled, once in the chest.

Last month, three teen boys were charged with murder in Alabama after their friend, Summer Moody, was shot last April. When a man caught the four breaking into fishing cottages in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, he allegedly fired a warning shot that killed Summer in what the district attorney called a "tragic accident." A grand jury indicted the three boys, not the man who shot Summer, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The idea and premise of Stand Your Ground produced another bizarre outcome in Connecticut. A man shot and killed his 15-year-old son during what he apparently thought was the attempted robbery of a neighbor's house, according CNN.

The fundamental question is—does the Castle Doctrine deter crime? The answer, according to researchers from Texas A&M, is no.

Professors Mark Hoekstra and Cheng Cheng from Texas A&M University found no evidence of deterrence on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault as a result of self-defense legislation. In contrast, the researchers found significant evidence that the laws increase homicides.

Economists at Georgia State University also recently found 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.”

(Matthew T. Mangino is the former district attorney of Lawrence County, PA and recently completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. Follow him on twitter @MatthewTMangino)

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