'Stand your ground' self-defense laws on public safety, crime, and social inequities in the United States

This lecture was originally scheduled for 27 May, 2021. It has been rescheduled for 17 June, 2021.

Since 2005, most US states have expanded laws regarding civilian rights to use deadly force in self-defense—commonly known as Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws. Such laws are widely debated in US public and policy discourse and are infamously linked with cases in which legal protections have been invoked to escape criminal prosecution in homicides. Despite the concentrated public attention on these laws, the evidence concerning their impact on public health and safety is often contested. Our research has aimed to advance the current evidence base in two main ways. First, we have synthesised the available evidence on the impacts of expanding an individual’s right to use deadly force on public safety (e.g., violence and crime) and social inequalities. Second, we conducted our own US-wide analysis of the impact of SYG laws on lethal violence to determine national and state-level impacts of these laws on homicides and social disparities in homicide.

Our findings contradict claims that expanding self-defense laws can deter violent crime across the United States. We used a controlled multiple baseline and location interrupted time series design to examine the impacts of the laws on homicide rates and disparities in homicide at the state and national level. We found that SYG laws are associated with an 8% to 11% national increase in monthly rates of homicide and firearm homicide—the equivalent of at least 58 additional excess homicides per month. State-specific effects varied markedly, with the largest increases clustering around the Southeast (e.g., Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Missouri). We do not find strong evidence that the laws were linked to exacerbated inequities by race, age, or sex in violent victimization – though relative increases were more pronounced among whites and males.

Evidence from our research indicates that the continued adoption of SYG laws across the U.S poses a significant threat to public safety.

 

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