“Stand your ground” laws may have led to hundreds of additional homicides every year in the United States, according to a new study that could boost criticisms that they encourage unnecessary violence, reported the Washington Post.
Fiercely debated and increasingly common in the United States, stand-your-ground laws remove the duty to retreat from an attacker when possible before responding with potentially deadly force. They became a flash point in national disputes over gun violence, self-defense and racial profiling, particularly after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager, in 2012.
Stand-your-ground laws are associated with an 11 percent increase in monthly firearm homicide rates, according to the new study, with especially striking jumps in Southern states that embraced stand-your-ground early on. That amounts to 700 additional homicides each year, according to the findings published Monday in JAMA Network Open, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Justifications for stand-your-ground often “center around these laws actually having some protective effect on public safety and deterring violence,” said David Humphreys, an associate professor at the University of Oxford and one of the paper’s authors, in an interview. “There doesn’t seem to be any evidence to show that and, you know, we only seem to see the opposite effect.”
The research echoes some other studies that found spikes in firearm homicides after the laws were passed — especially in Florida, which kicked off a wave of stand-your-ground legislation in 2005. Michelle Degli Esposti, the study’s lead author, said she and her colleagues “really wanted to unravel whether [Florida] was just this outlier.”
The trend extends well beyond one state, she said. But the national numbers also mask big geographical differences.
The largest jumps in homicides and firearm homicides — as high as 33.5 percent — occurred in southern states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Missouri. In contrast, stand-your-ground laws were not associated with significant changes in Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia, the study found.
That suggests stand-your-ground is not the only factor at play, the researchers acknowledge.
Michael Siegel, a doctor and researcher at Tufts University School of Medicine who was not part of the research team, expanded on the possible explanations in a commentary for JAMA Network Open: “I would argue that the most important factor is the public’s awareness of the change in the law,” he writes, pointing to intense media coverage, public discussion and a campaign by the National Rifle Association as Southern states passed stand-your-ground laws in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
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