Study Finds Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' Law Increases Homicides.  Is That Bad?

It's a Jon McNaughton, so you know it's good!

A study in the January issue of JAMA Internal Medicine finds that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, passed in 2005, resulted in an "abrupt and sustained increase in the monthly homicide rate" compared to the period before the law was enacted under former Gov. Sad Jeb Bush. Homicide rates overall saw a 24.4 percent increase, while homicides involving firearms went up 31.6 percent. Who would have guessed?

Among other data, the study found the monthly homicide rate in Florida prior to the law's enactment had actually been declining slightly. According to Miami New Times, which shelled out for the full article, not just the abstract, the study also found a 32 percent increase in the monthly homicide rate among African Americans, from 36 deaths per month to 48 after "stand your ground" went into effect. Also, a comparison with states that didn't have "stand your ground" laws showed no change in homicide rates in those states, suggesting that the laws make deadly shootings a lot likelier.

Happily, the National Rifle Association found a fatal flaw in the study! Sure, they say, overall deaths may be up, but the study didn't examine whether maybe a lot of those people just plain needed to be shot. Carefully putting "the study" in scare quotes, thus proving it's unreliable, the NRA piece explains,

Indeed, the JAMA authors admit near the end of their paper that “[o]ur study examined the effect of the Florida law on homicide and homicide by firearm, not on crime and public safety.”

This caveat is necessary because “the study” completely ignores the essential question of whether the firearm-related deaths it focuses on arose from unlawful aggression or lawful self-defense [...]

In short, because the authors don’t account for the differences between those homicides which are justifiable self-defense and those which are not, their “study” fails to provide any real insight on the effects of the law.

Yes, they really are brushing off a significantly higher homicide rate because maybe a lot of those deaths were completely justified. They don't know for sure, but maybe, which equals "probably," right? More people shot to death isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as they deserved it.

This would be a good spot to mention another national study of "stand your ground" laws, by Texas A & M University in 2012, which similarly found the laws were associated with higher homicide rates, but also (sorry, NRA) didn't find any decrease in crime:

The prospect of facing additional self-defense does not deter crime. Specifically, we find no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault [...] In contrast, we find significant evidence that the laws increase homicides.

The 2012 study's co-author, Mark Hoekstra, told NPR in 2013 that, in the 23 states that then had adopted "stand your ground," the laws "lower the cost of using lethal force," and "as a result, you get more of it." While Hoekstra couldn't rule out the possibility that all 500 to 700 more homicides per year were the result of self defense, it seems unlikely, since police classification of deadly shootings as "justifiable homicides" didn't show a similar jump. There also didn't seem to be any evidence that criminals were shooting more people, either. But since "stand your ground" laws remove the obligation to avoid a deadly confrontation, there may be more incentive to settle a dispute with a gun:

"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.

[wonkbar]<a href=""></a>[/wonkbar]But, hey, if the dead guy deserved it, no problem! It's all about fear, and if you yell "I am in fear for my life!" you can probably get away with anything. You really need a gun, don't you? And if you have one, you need another. Why not pick up a case, now that you probably don't have to worry Barack Obama will come take them away?

Meanwhile, back in Florida, state Sen. Rob Bradley introduced a bill in December that would make it even easier to win a "stand your ground" case, shifting the burden of proof from the shooter to the person who got shot. So if you claim you were standing your ground, whoever you shot would have to prove you weren't defending yourself, which could get a trifle difficult if the target ends up dead. That seems like a great incentive to make sure you finish 'em off.

[JAMA / Miami New Times / NRA / Texas A & M via the Internet Archive / NPR / Miami New Times]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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