Here Come the Stand Your Ground Debates

Crime, Lisa Bloom, Rights

Another Florida African-American teenaged boy shot, another tragic “Stand Your Ground” case.  Seventeen year old Jordan Davis was shot dead by forty-five year old Michael Dunn in a Jacksonville gas station last week after Dunn complained to a car full of boys that their music was too loud, and the boys allegedly yelled back at him.  Dunn, who says he felt threatened, then fired eight or nine shots into the car, killing Davis, then fled with his girlfriend, hiding out in a hotel overnight.  Dunn’s attorney has said the Stand Your Ground law may be invoked.

Here Come the Stand Your Ground Debates

Florida’s Stand Your Ground law says:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Dunn was not “attacked,” even in the version of the story he tells.  A verbal altercation over loud music is not an attack.  The fact that the victims were all unarmed and that Dunn immediately fled the scene and spent the night in a local hotel shows consciousness of guilt.  Stand Your Ground should not apply to these facts.  Yet a judge or jury may conclude otherwise, if they believe Dunn’s story that some of the kids in the car appeared to have a gun.

This entire incident shows how absurd the law is.  Words exchanged between strangers quickly escalated into a shooting that never should have happened. Dunn was capable of driving off after the shooting.  In non-Stand Your Ground states, he would have been required to do that instead of shooting.

The bigger issue is that of our ridiculously lax gun laws, which mean that Americans are far more likely to be shot to death than residents of other first world countries.  Too many guns in the hands of scared, trigger-happy citizens means our levels of gun violence, claiming 30,000 Americans a year, is at epidemic levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  The group most likely to be shooting victims?  Young African-American males, like Jordan Davis or Trayvon Martin.  Adding Stand Your Ground to the mix means shooters are more likely to escape justice for chilling homicides like this one.

The Stand Your Ground Law is a Disaster

We don’t need more opinion on whether Stand Your Grounds laws work or don’t work.  We have something far better: facts.

According to a 2010 review by the St. Petersburg Times, reports of justifiable homicide tripled after the law went into effect.   More recent academic studies from different disciplines have reached the same result.  A 2012 study by economists at Texas A&M University uses police data and concludes that Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in homicides.  Using public health data, economists at Georgia State University also found in 2012 that passage of a Stand Your Ground law is associated with a significant increase in homicides.

The Urban Institute finds that in states with Stand Your Ground laws, twice as many homicides are deemed justified as in non-Stand Your Ground states.

The racial disparity in the application of Stand Your Ground is horrifying – though it is similar to the racial bias that runs rampant throughout our criminal justice system.  In the Stand Your Ground states, when white shooters kill black victims, 34 percent of the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable, while only 3 percent of deaths are ruled justifiable in the reverse situation, when the shooter is black and the victim is white.

Are these gun deaths balanced by a reduction in crime?  According to the Texas A&M study:  no.  No change in the rates of violent crimes in Stand Your Ground states.  In fact, Stand Your Ground is most often invoked by criminals, as most defendants who invoke the defense have prior criminal records – one-third of them, gun crimes.  In fact, as Harvard’s David Hemenway (who I thank for his review of the research here) states:

The law has been used to free gang members, drug dealers fighting with their clients, and perpetrators who shot their victim in the back. Indeed, in most of the Florida Stand Your Ground confrontations, the victim was not committing a crime that led to the confrontation, and was not armed.

Stand Your Ground results in more dead Americans and less justice.

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not necessarily those of