Fact-check: "Stand your ground" laws don't increase murder, manslaughter rate

Give McClatchy some kudos for a balanced and evidence-based look at a subject receiving considerable demagoguery these days.  Despite the fact that Florida’s “stand your ground” had little application to the trial of George Zimmerman — he was pinned to the ground and unable to retreat when he felt afraid for his life according to the defense and not threatened at all according to the prosecution — politicians have attacked the self-defense law as a carte blanche for Wild West-type gun violence.  However, two dozen states have had SYG laws on the books for several years, and few of them had any increase in murders and manslaughters afterward:


Starting with Florida in 2005, at least 24 states have adopted some variation of a stand-your-ground law, Buchanan said. Additional states have adopted similar policies through state court rulings. Their general thrust is to remove the long-standing legal “duty to retreat” in the face of danger while in a public place. Instead, individuals may defend themselves, with lethal force if necessary, so long as they are in the public place legally. …

Last year, two Georgia State University economics researchers concluded that the laws are “associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males.” In a 55-page paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, authors Chandler B. McClellan and Erdal Tekin estimated that “between 28 and 33 additional white males are killed each month” as a result of these laws.

“These laws are also associated with a significant increase in emergency room visits and hospital discharges related to firearm-inflicted injuries,” the Georgia State economists said.

Increased firearm ownership in states with stand-your-ground laws and the presence of bystanders-turned-victims in public places might account for the increased dangers, they suggested.

Texas A&M researchers Mark Hoekstra and Cheng Cheng reached similar conclusions last year in a 43-page study that found a “statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters” in states with the enhanced self-defense laws.


But …

While Florida saw an uptick in murders and nonnegligent manslaughters after it passed its “stand your ground” law in 2005, the trend has not been common across other states which have passed similar laws.

Florida experienced a spike in murders and manslaughters after passing the law, but the curve has almost returned to the status quo ante.  The same is true in New Mexico, Louisiana (slightly) and in Delaware, the rate has continued its slight increase.  In Texas, the rate has declined after SYG passage, and the other states have either shown slight declines or no change at all. While one could possibly argue that these rates would have declined more without SYG in place, it’s impossible to argue that SYG has created an environment of escalating homicides.

Here’s a chart from McClatchy’s interactive tool showing all of the SYG states and their rates of homicide:


Now here’s another with DC’s murder/manslaughter rate in comparison.  That’s our nation’s capital — which has some of the strictest gun control regulations in the US — sitting on top:

syg-chart2Maybe policymakers in Washington should focus more on dealing with the high rate of murders and manslaughters in the nation’s capital, than on SYG laws in states that seem to have a better handle on the situation.


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Jazz Shaw 8:30 AM | February 25, 2024