Human Rights

New Study: "Stand Your Ground" Laws Lead to Increased Deaths

A working paper released this week found that states that have passed controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws actually ended up seeing more homicides after the laws were passed.

A working paper (PDF) released this week with the National Bureau of Economics Research found that states that have passed controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws, such as the one George Zimmerman is using as his defense to charges that he killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida this February, actually ended up seeing more homicides after the laws were passed.

Doctoral student Chandler B. McClellan and Professor Erdal Tekin at Georgia State University decided to test the claim that such laws were “making America safer.”

“Our evidence and certainly some other studies floating around out there find that these laws don’t work in the way they were intended to work,” McClellan said in an interview with Raw Story. “What we do see is a net increase in deaths.”

Passing such laws “with no evidence to back up the logic can lead to unintended results, which is what we see here. We have informed the public policy debate with this,” McClellan said.

Using homicide data from 2006 to 2008, the years after a wave of legislatures passed such laws in 2006, the researchers found that “Stand Your Ground” laws, which provide protection for deadly use of force in self-defense in a public place, results in a “significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males.” The results are found to be specific to “Stand Your Ground” laws and the effect doesn’t extend to other laws passed in the interest of self-defense.

“According to our estimates, between 4.4 and 7.4 additional white males are killed each month as a result of these laws. We find no evidence to suggest that these laws increase homicides among blacks,” the researchers write in the paper. “Our findings raise serious doubts against the argument that Stand Your Ground laws make America safer.”

“At least some of the people getting killed are bystanders, which is more than enough to raise serious concerns about these laws,” Professor Tekin told Raw Story. He said in research they’re prepping for a published journal article that includes more recent data, they’re actually finding their results will show a stronger effect on net deaths as more data is included.

The working paper also finds, “[Stand Your Ground] states have a higher percentage of black population, more likely to have a Republican governor, higher incarceration rates and more police officers. These states also tend to be more urban, and have a higher poverty rate.”

Such laws have been passed in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia, largely after a legislative push from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The group said in April it was abandoning its task force on social issues, which pushed “Stand Your Ground” legislation, after pressure from progressive groups like Common Cause prompted several of ALEC’s corporate supporters to drop membership.

Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
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