The passage of Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” has resulted in a significant increase in homicides in the state, according to a new study published recently by The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.
“Stand your ground,” also known as “line in the sand,” “no duty to retreat” or the “castle” doctrine, was passed by Florida in 2005. The law gives legal immunity to individuals using lethal force if they have a “reasonable belief” that they face a threat, without any obligation to retreat.
The study’s researchers analyzed monthly rates of homicide and homicide by firearm in Florida between 1999 and 2014. The figures, culled from a database maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were then compared to rates in four control states (New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Virginia), which have no “stand your ground” laws.
The University of Oxford researchers found that after Florida enacted the new self-defense law there was an “abrupt and sustained” increase in homicide rates. Homicides jumped 21 percent from an average of 82 homicides per month from 1999 to October 2005 to 99 homicides per month from October 2005 to 2014.
Similarly, homicides by firearm spiked by almost 41 percent from a mean of 49 homicides per month to 69 during the time frames.
The researchers observed no similar increases in homicides in the control states, nor did they note any significant changes in the rates of suicides and suicides by firearm in Florida.
Florida’s “stand your ground” law blast onto the national stage in February 2012 after the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by Sanford neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense and was eventually acquitted.
Civil rights activists and legal experts have said the law is dangerous, particularly for African Americans who face racial bias behind and before a firearm.
“We’re convinced that ‘Stand Your Ground’ is a vigilante, get-out-of-jail free card,” the NAACP’S Hilary Shelton, vice president of government affairs and Washington bureau chief, told the AFRO in a previous story.
As the AFRO also previously reported, a Tampa Bay Times analysis found that defendants who employ the “stand your ground” defense are more successful when the victim is Black. The analysis also found that the law was being applied in questionable ways, was being invoked much more frequently, even in misdemeanor cases, and about two-thirds of those who claimed the “stand your ground” defense have been acquitted.
The Oxford study echoes previous research such as a 2014 report by the American Bar Association, which found that homicides had spiked in the 33 states with “stand your ground” laws.
“Instead of encouraging peaceful resolution through the rule of law, stand-your-ground laws encourage violent actions,” said Joseph J. Vince, a former officer in the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a member of the ABA task force that wrote the report. “They place police officers at risk and give criminals an automatic defense.”