Standing Your Ground

A new NBER paper examines the effect of Stand Your Ground self-defense laws, which “eliminate the longstanding legal requirement that a person threatened outside of his or her own home retreat rather than use force.”  Chandler B. McClellan and Erdal Tekin exploit cross-state variations in implementation dates to determine the effect of these laws on homicides.  Their findings are grim: 

Our results indicate that Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males.  According to our estimates, between 4.4 and 7.4 additional white males are killed each month as a result of these laws.  We find no evidence to suggest that these laws increase homicides among blacks.  Our results are robust to a number of specifications and unlikely to be driven entirely by the killings of assailants.

In the paper, the authors add that:

It is possible that some of the additional homicides associated with the SYG law may indeed be driven by the homicides of assailants.  However, note that the net increase in homicides cannot be accounted by a one-to-one substitution between killings of assailants and killings of innocent individuals unless multiple assailants are killed in some instances (Cheng and Hoekstra, 2012).  If at least some of the additional homicides are due to individuals resorting to the use of deadly force against each other in situations where the threat of death or serious bodily injury is not imminent to either party, this could indicate that these laws impose serious costs not only on criminals both also private citizens as well. It is also possible that potential intruders and attackers, who, in the absence of SYG laws, could have gotten away with their crimes without killing anyone, are now killed as a result of these laws.

Eighteen states have passed Stand Your Ground laws since 2005.

 

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  1. Joe says:

    This whole little “paper” is a joke. What criteria, exactly, was used? And for what time period? And what, praytell, are these “robust specifications”? These Heroes had their “answer” before they ever “researched” anything.

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  2. PigSnwoball says:

    I didn’t see anything here that actually takes away from SYG. Both paragraphs of SYG working.

    SYG is MEANT to escalate the level of homicides against assailants, including assailants in situations that would not have resulted in a death prior to SYG.

    For me, it’s proof that SYG is working.

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  3. Loren Pechtel says:

    Justifiable homicides could legitimately increase with SYG laws without any changes to the number of dead victims. Note that there is a case where SYG permits killing in a situation that otherwise wouldn’t have become violent:

    Bad guy: “You’re not welcome here. Leave before I kill you.” (Due to the situation you believe the threat is real.)

    no SYG: You of course run. That was their objective, no violence results.

    SYG: You have the option of shooting instead.

    Note that this isn’t only an issue with gangs, domestic cases can go down this way, also. A couple, living together, breaking up, the owner of the property tries to throw the other out with threats of violence.

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  4. John A. Tures says:

    Inspired by the Freakonomics book and video, which we use in class, my students and I did our own analysis of Stand Your Ground laws and violent crime. Here is what we found. And yes, we have all the details on where we got our data and what time frame we used.

    http://www.lagrangenews.com/view/full_story/18672812/article-Stand-Your-Ground-laws-%E2%80%A6-do-they-reduce-crime-?instance=popular

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  5. Mark Buehner says:

    The problem is this study compares deaths to deaths, and they acknowledge they assign no weight to dead victims or dead assailants. Dead bad guys is not a negative social outcome. Moreover, while they mention:
    “It is also possible that potential intruders and attackers, who, in the absence of SYG laws, could have gotten away with their crimes without killing anyone, are now killed as a result of these laws.”

    they fail to mention the other possible/likely outcomes for those victims short of death. If instead of the victim or assailant being killed in a SYG situation, the victim is instead raped (but not killed), that would appear to be a ‘favorable’ outcome than a dead assailant according to the assumptions of this study. A victim being beaten into a coma as well. The POINT of SYG laws is to shoot and kill bad guys before they can victimize you, you would expect (even hope for) more dead bodies (bad guys).

    Now if you want to really dig into these statistics and figure out who the dead people are and if they got what was coming to them, thats a much different (and much more useful) study. But thats not this one.

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  6. Zachary says:

    …“eliminate the longstanding legal requirement that a person threatened outside of his or her own home retreat rather than use force.”

    Wow. That statement is a wild mischaracterization. Under the common law, which this country and others have relied upon for hundreds of years, an individual was under no duty to retreat before using deadly force in a public place. Any imposition of such a duty is solely a creature of statute, enacted to supersede the relevant common law provision. Therefore, to reference to such a duty as a “longstanding legal requirement” is complete and utter nonsense. Longstanding as compared to what? Certainly not the alternative.

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  7. John Deatherage says:

    “between 4.4 and 7.4 additional white males are killed”…. in a nation of 330 million?

    pseudo science. the rounding errors in the data would be far larger than that….

    I expect better from Freakonomics.

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  8. John Deatherage says:

    “stand your ground” is a bad label. It would be more accurate to use the phrase “No duty to retreat”. In states without SYG, you have a duty to retreat until you can safely retreat no further.

    I’m not a lawyer and don’t play one on television so I’m open correction by someone (a lawyer) perhaps or informed opinions by others.

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    • Zachary says:

      John, you are correct in noting that there is some confusion over the difference between a “Stand Your Ground” law and a duty to retreat.

      A “Stand Your Ground” provision is merely an additional procedural measure that a defendant may invoke if the defendant is charged with a crime as a result of actions allegedly taken in self defense. If the defendant asserts his statutory right under the “Stand Your Ground” provision, the State must prove to a judge in a pretrial hearing that it has enough evidence to reasonably overcome the defendant’s self defense argument. [Note: That is just a general standard. Each State sets out a particular standard within the relevant legislation.] If the State can satisfy the standard, then the case may proceed to a full trial.

      A duty to retreat is a separate and distinct legal provision. For example, only a few States have enacted “Stand Your Ground” provisions; however, an overwhelming majority of States do not impose on an individual a duty to retreat when faced with certain danger. As I stated in my post above, “[u]nder the common law, which this country and others have relied upon for hundreds of years, an individual was under no duty to retreat before using deadly force in a public place. Any imposition of such a duty is solely a creature of statute, enacted to supersede the relevant common law provision.” [Note: Under the English common law, there was a duty to retreat under some very specific instances, but we bloodthirsty Americans basically did away with those exceptions fairly quickly upon settling in the New World.]

      Further, the duty to retreat is not nearly absolute. It is not exactly a duty to retreat “until you can safely retreat no further.” Generally, it is a duty to retreat to reasonable safety, which could be a few steps or running away completely, and only if it is reasonably safe to do so.

      I hope that helps.

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