The case against “Stand Your Ground” gun laws is ever more compelling. Applied in one form or another in about three dozen states, these provisions allow ordinary residents to use deadly force in self-defense even when violence could have been avoided simply by retreating. In effect, they extend the “castle doctrine,” which permits deadly force against home invaders, to public spaces. That’s a bad idea in principle and a proven failure in practice.
If two recent cases are any guide, juries are starting to push back against audacious claims of self-defense. In Florida, a jury in August convicted Michael Drejka of manslaughter after he shot and killed an unarmed man in a parking lot; Drejka had claimed the shooting was justified by the state’s Stand Your Ground law. And in Texas, a jury last week found that police officer Amber Guyger, who’d claimed self-defense after mistakenly entering a neighbor’s apartment and shooting him dead, was guilty of murder.
A 2018 report by Rand Corp. surveyed years of gun-violence research and found “moderate evidence” (the second-highest degree of confidence according to the report’s cautious criteria) that Stand Your Ground increases homicides. Other research suggests that Stand Your Ground promotes violence rather than preventing it. Multiple studies have linked Stand Your Ground laws with increased killings, emergency room visits and hospitalizations because of firearm-related injuries.
Florida is credited with initiating the wave of Stand Your Ground laws. The state allows people to use deadly force against an unarmed person if they “reasonably believe” such force is necessary to defend themselves. This standard is woefully unclear and an open invitation to miscarriage of justice.
The Tampa Bay Times investigated about 200 Stand Your Ground cases in Florida and found the law was applied wildly unevenly, and with alarming racial disparities. Stand Your Ground, the paper concluded, was successfully used to “free killers and violent attackers whose self-defense claims seem questionable at best.”
The truth is that Stand Your Ground laws were never really designed to safeguard the public; they were a political concession to the gun lobby. The work of documenting the laws’ effects ought to go on, so that the facts become impossible to ignore – but the evidence as it stands should be enough to persuade voters and legislators to act. These laws should be repealed.