Study: Stand your ground laws don't deter crime

Monday , July 16, 2012 - 12:07 PM

Handgun...

Jessica Lipscomb

"Stand your ground" laws do not deter crime and might actually cause an increase in murders and manslaughters, according to a study out of Texas A&M University.

Researchers in College Station, Texas, looked at 21 states that in recent years expanded their so-called "stand your ground" or "castle doctrine" laws to places other than a person’s home.

In those places -- a car, a bar, a park -- depending on the state, a person has no duty to retreat from a threat before returning deadly force.

The study, released in June, found no evidence the laws deterred crimes such as burglaries, robberies and aggravated assaults, and showed states that had adopted such laws saw a 7 percent to 9 percent increase in murders and manslaughters, compared to states without them.

"Perhaps most troubling," the authors wrote, "is the possibility that under castle doctrine, conflicts or crimes that might not have otherwise turned deadly now do."

Florida’s "stand your ground" law came under fire after the February shooting of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Earlier this year, former Palmetto Ridge High student Jorge Saavedra of Naples, Fla., avoided criminal prosecution for stabbing and killing a classmate after a judge ruled he acted in self-defense under the law.

Elizabeth Megale, a professor at Savannah Law School in Savannah, Ga., whose writing on Florida’s "stand your ground" law has been published in law journals, said the statute is being used in ways lawmakers didn’t intend.

One problem? In some cases, a killer is the only witness to a fatal fight.

"When you’ve got a dead body, there’s nobody to speak the other side," Megale said. "If that gets out ... there really is an incentive to shoot to kill rather than shoot to injure."

In measuring the increase in murders and manslaughters, the Texas study’s authors accounted for economic conditions, region and policing levels. They also compared the time period, 2000 to 2010, to other 11-year periods from 1960 to 2009.

Still, the researchers could think of no other factor that would have caused the increase in killings, "and thus we interpret the increase in homicides as the causal effect of castle doctrine."

The recession and widening economic gap also could have had an effect, Megale said. "You have to be very careful. Just because numbers trend in a particular way does not mean there is a significant correlation."

Marion Hammer, a National Rifle Association lobbyist who helped craft Florida’s "stand your ground" law, said she was not familiar with the Texas study but questioned its merits.

"I think they’re cooking up studies to try to discredit a law that gives a law-abiding citizen an even break."

The Texas A&M study’s authors note that FBI crime statistics do not indicate whether the dead person was the alleged threat-maker or the alleged victim. And the definition of "justifiable homicide" is narrow, according to an FBI crime-reporting handbook.

(Contact Jessica Lipscomb of the Naples Daily News in Florida at JELipscomb@naplesnews.comxxx.com.)

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