Report: “Stand Your Ground” Laws Fuel Racist, Lethal Violence

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[“Stand Your Ground” Laws]
Giffords Law Center's Robyn Thomas: "All 27 states that have enacted them ["Stand Your Ground" laws] should act now to repeal them.”
Photo: YouTube

The murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man out for a jog in Georgia, thrust controversial Stand Your Ground laws back into the headlines.

To better inform the debate around these dangerous laws, Giffords Law Center and the SPLC Action Fund are releasing a new report, “Stand Your Ground" Kills: How These NRA-Backed Laws Promote Racist Violence, analyzing the failure of Stand Your Ground policies.

Highlighting the systemic racism and sexism perpetuated by Stand Your Ground laws, the report calls for the repeal of Stand Your Ground laws in the 27 states where they are enacted and for laws to be passed overturning harmful court decisions that have imposed Stand Your Ground standards on eight other states.

“Stand Your Ground laws are racist policies that give trigger-happy aggressors a license to kill,” said Robyn Thomas, Executive Director of Giffords Law Center. “Time and time again, we’ve seen Stand Your Ground disproportionately harm Black and Brown communities, including the horrific shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Atlanta. Far too often we see vigilantes shoot first and ask questions later. These laws are deadly and completely unnecessary, and all 27 states that have enacted them should act now to repeal them.”

As the report emphasizes, Stand Your Ground Laws distort traditional self-defense laws by classifying more killings as justified and are associated with up to 50 more homicides each month. Traditional self-defense laws are practical; people are generally expected to step away from an incident only if they know they can do so with complete safety.

“Stand Your Ground laws have fueled vigilante violence against communities of color across the country for years,” said SPLC Action Fund President and Chief Executive Officer Margaret Huang. “They have allowed murderers to walk away and face absolutely no consequences for their actions. They have robbed families of their loved ones, needlessly divided communities along racial lines, emboldened racists, and exacerbated the racial and gender bias in our justice system. They need to be overturned.”

Over the past two decades, right-wing organizations like the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council have sought to alter self-defense laws to further tilt the scales of justice in favor of killing. This has meant providing the largely white male base of these organizations greater authority to use lethal force in more places and with more impunity.

Some states have particularly egregious laws justifying use of deadly force. For example:

  • Mississippi states that “the killing of a human being” is justifiable when trying to prevent another person from committing a felony in the immediate premises of a dwelling, vehicle, or place of business or employment that is occupied by the person using lethal force.
  • Florida permits the use of deadly force in some cases to stop someone from breaking into an unoccupied motor vehicle.
  • Texas allows people in some cases to chase down and kill another person fleeing after committing theft in order to regain property of any value.

There is striking evidence of racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws, the report shows.

A case study of Florida, which in 2005 became one of the first states to enact a Stand Your Ground law, found that defendants invoking Stand Your Ground defenses were twice as likely to be convicted for killing white victims compared to non-white victims. The report also highlights similar gender bias in the application of Stand Your Ground. An analysis of Florida cases found that female defendants accused of killing a partner were twice as likely to be convicted as male defendants in comparable cases.

Stand Your Ground laws do not lead to the decreases in crime that proponents long touted. They do, however, lead to an increase in homicides. Using Florida as a test case, researchers found:

A 32% increase in rates of firearm homicide and a 24% increase in rates of homicide overall.

A 45% increase in firearm homicides among adolescents.

A tripling of the number of homicides classified as “justifiable” in the five years after Florida enacted its law.

In 79% of cases, the assailant could have retreated to avoid the confrontation, and in 68% of cases, the person killed was unarmed.

Given the striking failures of Stand Your Ground laws and the harms they inflict on Black and Brown communities, Giffords Law Center and SPLC Action Fund stand with partners and allies likeAmnesty International, Cities United, the Community Justice Action Fund, The Dream Defenders, the NAACP, and others in calling for states to dismantle Stand Your Ground nationwide.

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