In 2005, Florida became the first of nearly two-dozen states to pass a "stand your ground" law that removed the requirement to retreat. If you felt at risk outside of your home--in a park or on the street--you could use lethal force to defend yourself.
Now, researchers who've studied the effect of the laws have found that states with a stand your ground law have more homicides than states without such laws, reported NPR.
"These laws lower the cost of using lethal force," MarkHoekstra an economist with Texas A&M University who examined stand your ground laws, told NPR. "Our study finds that, as a result, you get more of it."
A committee analyzing the Florida statute has found no increase in violence as a result of the law.
Because murder is a rare phenomenon, the numbers in any given state can be hard to analyze. It can be difficult, for example, to disentangle the effects of stand your ground statutes from other trends, such as natural fluctuations in the crime rate. Until now, there has been little attempt to rigorously study these laws at a national level.
Hoekstra recently decided to analyze national crime statistics to see what happens in states that pass stand your ground laws. He found the laws are having a measurable effect on the homicide rate.
"Our study finds that, that homicides go up by 7 to 9 percent in states that pass the laws, relative to states that didn't pass the laws over the same time period," he told NPR.
"We find that there are 500 to 700 more homicides per year across the 23 states as a result of the laws," he said. There are about 14,000 homicides annually in the United States as a whole.
The fact that more people are being killed doesn't automatically mean the law isn't working. Hoekstra says there are at least three possible explanations.
"One possibility for the increase in homicide is that perhaps [in cases where] there would have been a fistfight ... now, because of stand your ground laws, it's possible that those escalate into something much more violent and lethal," says Hoekstra.
In a separate analysis of death certificates before and after stand your ground laws were passed in different states, economists at Georgia State University also found that states that passed the laws ended up with a higher homicide rate.
Stanford law professor John Donohue told NPR, the laws might end up being a refuge for some defendants.
"I've been hearing from defense lawyers around the country that if they happen to have a criminal defendant in a stand your ground jurisdiction, pretty much no matter what happens, you can say, 'Well, I shot the guy, but I felt threatened and had a reasonable basis for fearing injury to myself,' " he said.
An analysis of crime and punishment from the perspective of a former prosecutor and current criminal justice practitioner.
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