The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

More homicides are reported in states where you can ‘Stand Your Ground,’ report finds

In this July, 2013, photo, Jaylen Reese, 12, marches to downtown Atlanta during a protest of George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict in the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin. The incident brought to light the “Stand Your Ground” defense. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

The nation’s widely adopted “Stand Your Ground” laws may be driving up homicide rates and fueling racial bias in law enforcement, a new preliminary report from the American Bar Association warns.

Thirty-three states have enacted “Stand Your Ground” laws in the last decade, and nearly all states justify the use of deadly force when defending one’s home against an intruder. In seven states, individuals who use force under Stand Your Ground laws are immune from criminal prosecution. But states with these kinds of self-defense laws also saw an increase in homicides, according to a report this week from the ABA’s National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws.

The task force advises states with the laws to repeal them if they “desire to reduce their overall homicide rates” or “desire to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system.” The report is based on more than a decade of empirical evidence and interviews with 70 witnesses across the country conducted over the course of a year.

David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who served on the task force, pointed to studies at two separate universities that both found an increase in homicide rates. The researchers behind one Texas A&M study found that homicide rates increased by a statistically significant 8 percent in “Stand Your Ground” states.

“The Stand Your Ground law was sold on the basis that it would lower serious crime and, in particular, it would lower homicide rates,” Harris said in a release. “If your city went up 8 percent in murders, do you think there would be a little excitement down at City Hall? Yeah, I think so.”

The report also cited an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times, which reviewed 235 Stand Your Ground cases since the state enacted the nation’s first “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005. The newspaper found that nearly 70 percent of cases did not result in punishment, and the individuals were more likely to avoid charges if the victim was black.

Lawmakers in at least ten states have tried to rein in “Stand Your Ground” laws in recent years, including Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Georgia. None were successful.

Most of the attempts to roll back “Stand Your Ground” protections were a response to the 2012 shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges, inciting nationwide uproar and evoking an emotional response from President Barack Obama. Many of those interviewed said the law perpetuated racial injustices and stripped away protections for victims.

“This law is on shaky ground because it exacerbates the tension that already exists between persons and classes who are different from us and individuals with whom we have strained relationships,” Rev. Leonard Leach, a Baptist minister in Texas, told the task force. “It perpetuates a foolish bravado of those who feel a bold security when they have a gun in their hand.”