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New study links US Stand Your Ground laws to 700 additional homicides every year

Meg Lintern reports on a new study into the controversial US laws.

A new study has revealed that Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws, which allow protection for individuals who use deadly violence in self-defence, have resulted in an additional 700 homicides in the US each year since their introduction.

Under SYG laws, people have no duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defence. This allows greater legal protection to those who use lethal force.

According to a new study published in the JAMA Network Open, the law is linked to an increase in homicide rates of 11% nationally, but up to 28% in some states. Research was led by a team from the University of Oxford, University of Pennsylvania, and collaborators at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The evidence collected suggests that the expansion of self-defence laws may lead to increased violence, resulting in the unnecessary loss of life.

Advocates for SYG laws claim that they protect the public by enabling retaliatory violence when faced with a significant danger. Critics, on the other hand, believe that the sanctioned use of deadly force is likely to enable greater levels of violence. Furthermore, some believe that SYG laws could encourage discrimination: implicit and explicit biases of threat perception could discriminate against certain minority groups, leading to higher rates of death amongst these populations.

These concerns have been tragically realised in recent years. The killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2021, the killing of Armaud Arbery in 2020, and the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in 2021, have all centred around the SYG laws.

According to Senior Study author Dr David Humphreys, from Oxford’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention, “Stand Your Ground laws have been enacted in the majority of states, and more states are currently debating their introduction.

“Supporters argue that introducing these laws will improve public safety by deterring criminals, but this research finds the opposite, showing that rates of violence increase (sometimes dramatically) following the adoption of these laws.”

The study considers the impacts of SYG laws in 23 states between 2000 and 2016. Researchers found that the laws were linked to increases in homicide and firearm homicide rates of 8% to 11% across the United States. Florida was the state with the highest increase in homicide rates, seeing a 28% increase following the introduction of SYG laws. Increases in homicides were found to be higher in southern states, but no states saw a reduction in homicides or firearm homicides. The laws were found to affect all Americans, regardless of race, sex, or age.

Lead author Dr Michelle Degli Esposti, also from Oxford, says, ‘It is critical that policy and law-makers consider the scientific evidence on the risks associated with Stand Your Ground laws before passing more lenient laws on the use of lethal force in self-defence. More research is needed to understand why these laws have serious negative impacts, but research consistently shows that, in most contexts, the laws are leading to unnecessary and avoidable loss of life.’

Image credit: Karolina Grabowski

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