Report: Stand Your Ground states have more homicides, complicated prosecutions

Photo via thinkprogress.org.
Stand Your Ground, or Shoot First? Credit: Think Progress

A national coalition of more than 1,000 mayors from across the United States released a report Monday showing that many of the 22 states with “Stand Your Ground” laws have experienced a striking increase in the number of justifiable homicides committed by private citizens in the years following their enactment. 

The Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, in collaboration with the National Urban League and VoteVets, issued  the report a day before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights is to consider the law enforcement and public safety implications of laws some critics call “Shoot First” statutes.

The report – Shoot First: Stand Your Ground Laws and Their Effect on Violent Crime and the Criminal Justice System – reviews a legal phenomenon that drew national attention after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

The study details how the laws have tilted self-defense claims in favor of shooters, sharply increasing successful claims that fatal shootings were justified and boosting the overall homicide rates. The report also provides an analysis of the Stand Your Ground laws in each of the 22 states that have adopted them since Florida passed the nation’s first in 2005.

According to the report’s authors, Stand Your Ground states have seen their “justifiable homicide” rate rise by an average of 53 percent in five years following their passage. Over the same period, states without these laws saw justifiable homicides fall by an average of five percent.

The report explains that this increase is not the result of more homicides being classified as “justifiable,” but an overall increase in firearm-related crimes and homicides in Stand Your Ground states.

Texas A&M University researchers published a study in May 2012 that found passage of Stand Your Ground laws was associated with a 7 to 9 percent increase in total homicides, depending on the statistical method used.

“Our coalition joined with the National Urban League and VoteVets to give state legislators the tools they need to understand the impact Stand Your Ground laws have on prosecutions and public safety,” said Mayors Against Illegal Guns Co-Chair and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “We hope the results will encourage them to review these laws to determine whether they’re helping their communities, or making the public less safe.”

“We need common-sense gun laws in this country that will help reduce violence and keep our neighborhoods safe,” said Mayors Against Illegal Guns Co-Chair and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “This study offers vital insight into how we can improve our laws to ensure the safety of the American people.”

In states that passed these laws between 2005 and 2007, the justifiable homicide rate was 53 percent higher in the years after passage of the law than in the years preceding it.

The jump in justifiable homicides was particularly large in some states: 200 percent in Florida, 54 percent in Texas, 83 percent in Georgia, 24 percent in Arizona and 725 percent in Kentucky.

A new analysis of demographic data also indicates that the increase in justifiable homicides has disproportionately affected the African-American population.

The number of both black and white justifiable homicide victims has increased in Stand Your Ground states, but because the rate of victimization among African-Americans was already much higher before enactment of Stand Your Ground laws, the subsequent increase has also been more dramatic.

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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