As the national eye has turned toward more killings that are justified using “Stand Your Ground” laws, economists and researchers are asking a deeper question: how indicative are these high profile homicides of larger trends in crime? More specifically, does implementing a Stand Your Ground law actually increase the homicide rate? The answer is, sadly, yes – enacting laws that protect people who kill others in the name of self-defense does seem to increase the number of homicides in a given state.
Stand Your Ground laws, which allow people outside of their homes to use deadly force if they feel threatened, have recently come under attack when Trayvon Martin, a Florida youth whose only crime seemed to be wearing a hooded sweatshirt, was killed while on a stroll. In the past decade, though, eighteen states have adopted similar laws, and until the recent criticism resulting from Martin’s death few thought to investigate the adverse consequences of implementing SYG.
According to a recent working paper, SYG laws are responsible for increasing the murder rate by over four people a month in states that implement them. Interestingly, though, SYG laws appear to only systematically increase homicides where white people are the victim — an oddity considering the racially charged details of the Trayvon Martin case. Further, these increases are greater than the increases associated with justifiable homicides, meaning that states that implement the law are seeing a significant uptick in murders that aren’t explained away using SYG.
These findings are corroborated by other criminological experts, who note that justifiable homicide is still exceedingly rare, even in SYG states. Others, though, aren’t so credulous. There is considerable variation in the data, even taking into account the variables used in the statistical analysis, such that it may be inappropriate to draw lasting conclusions about the causal relationship between implementing SYG and homicide rates.
Either way, though, these findings call into question two fundamental claims about the effectiveness of Stand Your Ground — that it makes people safer and that it is only used when people are faced with a life threatening situation. Those two statements run entirely counter to the observed effects of Stand Your Ground — more violence and less safety.
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