Sun 29 Apr, 2012 09:07 am
Stand Your Ground makes sense
These are sane laws that protect people
By John Lott / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Call them what you will: “Stand Your Ground” or “Castle Doctrine” laws.
Mayor Bloomberg and members of Congress, speaking on the House floor,
go so far as to label them “shoot first” laws.
This is a gross exaggeration — a slander, in fact, against legislation
designed to reform a flaw in our treatment of self-defense. Earlier
statutes affirmatively required potential victims to retreat as much
as possible before using deadly force to protect themselves,
sometimes putting their lives in jeopardy.
The supposedly infamous laws passed in Florida and elsewhere, in contrast,
use a “reasonable person” standard for determining when it is
proper to defend oneself — requiring that a reasonable person
would believe that another individual intends to inflict serious
bodily harm or death on them.
Pundits who’ve had a field day ripping apart Stand Your Ground laws
repeatedly fail to mention that crucial “reasonable person” standard.
The wild speculation that the laws give broad license for vigilantes
to go around recklessly shooting people are a totally irresponsible caricature.
Ultimately, it is judges or jurors who determine what constitutes a
reasonable fear under such a law, not the person who fires the gun.
A few examples: Under a Stand Your Ground law, you can’t shoot a
fleeing criminal in the back. You can’t provoke an attack.
You can’t use unnecessary force to stop an attack. I’m not going to
get into the twisted case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin,
the facts of which are still not fully understood but, whether
Zimmerman acted in self-defense with Trayvon on top of him and
no place to retreat — or whether, in the other version of events,
Zimmerman initiated the attack — the Stand Your Ground law is not relevant.
The media have also been busy painting a picture that an epidemic
of justifiable homicides has erupted since these laws have passed.
The Wall Street Journal ran a story suggesting that an increase in
justifiable homicides nationwide from 176 in 2000 to 326 in 2010
arose from a “shoot first” mentality, but part of that increase is just
a trick of numbers; it occurs because the laws have reclassified
what is considered “self-defense,” not because more people are being shot.
In addition, the numbers for 2000 (and 2005) are artificially low
compared with other years because relatively few states actually
reported justifiable homicides. Using the FBI Uniform Crime Report
in 2000, justifiable homicides were counted by the FBI for 30 states.
In 2010, the number of states counted was 35 and which states
reported the numbers also changed.
Curiously, though, this went unnoticed: Over the same period of time,
there has been an increase in justifiable killings by police and there
are no similar data problems here, no changing definitions or large
changes in jurisdictions reporting. Between 2000 and 2010, the FBI’s
Uniform Crime Reports show that justifiable police killings rose by 25%,
rising to 387 from 309, suggesting that something else is occurring.
The breathless coverage of Stand Your Ground completely ignores
the most important issue: Have these laws increased total deaths?
If more criminals are killed in justifiable self-defense — but the
number of innocent lives lost falls by more than the deaths of
criminals rise — is that really a bad thing?
The third edition of my book “More Guns, Less Crime” provides the
only published, refereed academic study on these laws. I found that
deterrence works. In states adopting Stand Your Ground and Castle
Doctrine laws from 1977 to 2005, murder rates fell by 9% and overall
violent crime by 11%. This would mean an annual drop in murders
that is about 10 times more than the entire flawed, measured
increase in civilian justifiable homicides from 2000 to 2010.
The push to undo these state laws never discusses why they were
adopted in the first place. Forcing victims to take time to retreat
can put their lives in jeopardy, and a prosecutor might draw the line
differently on whether a victim had retreated sufficiently.
Law-abiding citizens are hardly the trigger-happy individuals the media
paint them to be. With national surveys showing about 2 million
defensive gun uses a year, the number of justifiable homicides is amazingly small.
With 41 states having either Stand Your Ground- or Castle Doctrine-type
laws — and an additional six having common-law versions of these
rules — the amazing fact is that literally only a few questionable
cases over the past decade can be pointed to by the media, and
even those cases are debatable.
Lott is a former chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission
and the author of the third edition of “More Guns, Less Crime.”
[All emfasis has been added by David.]