Analyzing Stand Your Ground Laws and Justifiable Homicides

JACS stand your ground analysis

Courtesy JACS

By Robert B. Young, MD

We haven’t reviewed much research lately, which is Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership’s raison d’être. So let’s take a look at a study presented in October at the American College of Surgeons’ annual meeting’s Scientific Forum.

“Stand Your Ground: Policy and Trends in Firearm-Related Justifiable Homicide and Homicide in the US” by Marc Levy et al. tries to show whether the spread of “stand your ground” laws has increased even non-justified firearm homicides.

The study methods seem superficially sound. The authors collected national statistics for each year from 2000 to 2017 from several government databases, and compared rates of justified firearm homicides (JHR) versus other firearm homicides (HR, excluding law enforcement actions) before and after enactment of SYG laws.

Twenty-two states became SYG states during the study period (from 2005 on, Florida first and from 2006-2011, the other 21 did). 28 remained non-SYG states. Because Missouri, Idaho and Utah didn’t enact SYG statutes until 2017-18, they were considered part of the 28 non-SYG states.

Their conclusions broadly suggest problematic increases in both JHR and HR after SYG laws were introduced across all 22 states.

However, there are quite a few problems with their methods and analysis. In no particular order:

  • SYG is a rarely-used defense, and justifiable homicide (JH) is documented far more rarely than it is ultimately found. Statistics reflect only the first assumptions of police and prosecutors. Many JHs begin as homicide investigations that conclude, days or (if tried) months or years later with findings of JH. This inescapable under-counting is an inherent major flaw in any study on JH rates.
  • It does not appear that they correlated their findings on firearm homicides with overall homicide, violent crime and property crime rates. Part of the intent of freeing citizens to defend themselves anywhere they may be is to reduce all those crimes, not just firearm-related ones. Because we know felons don’t want to be shot and avoid suspected armed victims, this is a substantial rationale to the SYG idea, following up the Castle doctrine.
  • They point out that they did not attempt to correlate their findings with any other factors, such as “Other policies enacted in states during the period of this study [as well as] . . .  State poverty levels, population diversity, and firearm ownership.” Not to mention varying law enforcement practices, educational and political differences, ethnic disparities, etc. What about baseline crime rates? How about differences in law enforcement and prosecutorial attitudes toward self-defense outside the home, even if the state is non-SYG?
  • DRGO readers know that one of our biggest complaints about public health research into violence is the snapshot (or “case study”) approach comparing different places at a given time. This study is better, in that they report what happened before and after establishment of SYG laws in each state, which serve as their own controls. However, that is not the same as examining changes in trends before and after. An increased rate could actually be an amelioration of more rapid increase before; a decreased rate could be negative if the prior rate had been decreasing more slowly. Unless this is defined, overall changes in rates at a given point do not tell the whole story.

Examples of these problems can be seen in the authors’ data about New Hampshire, Alabama and Louisiana. New Hampshire had the lowest homicide rate (HR) before and after its SYG law while Louisiana (New Orleans) had the highest HR overall. Neighboring Alabama categorized only two homicides as justified from 2009 to 2017 following its SYG enactment in 2008, despite reporting many more previously.

SYG state Tennessee reported the highest justifiable homicide rate (JHR) all through the study. Non-SYG state Hawaii had the lowest. Nor do we yet know the way rates may change in Missouri, Idaho and Utah. And aside from Pennsylvania, with the Philadelphia metro area, all the SYG states are consistently rural.

Overall, JHR rose about 55% in SYG states over the study period, while HR rose about 11%. Meanwhile, JHR rose about 20% in non-SYG states with HR dropping about 2%. Because legally determined JH is still very rare, they cannot offset increases in HR. But any increase in JHR should be applauded.

They conclude, along with a number of predecessors on this topic, that SYG laws are a risk to public health that should not be adopted and the laws should be repealed where they have been instituted.

But studies like this are riddled with inconsistent data collection methods and unanswered questions. They end up only echoing the pre-existing opinions of researchers who add one more low-quality paper to their résumés and to the rampant anti-gun, pro-control academic ethos.

The cultural factors that drive violence and are different in different places in the country were simply ignored in the JACS study. Culture and psychology are the main determinants of propensity to violence, not the means. Ignoring this is the greatest fault of the the study’s authors and virtually all such similar work.

 

DRGO Editor Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association

This article was originally published at drgo.us and is reprinted here with permission. 

comments

  1. avatar Sam I Am says:

    The problems with statistical representations are always the same: presumption, assumption, isolation of the data from other effects. These also apply to the receiver of data analysis.

    In the article, there is note of increases of justifiable homicides due to SYG laws. There are three major responses available: favorable, unfavorable, who cares.

    POTG will likely approve of the increase in SYG events (what we call DGUs), because a life was saved. The anti-gun mafia looks at the DGU increase as bad because the defender took a life. The only way anti-gunners can see DGU stats as good is if there are none (well, maybe also if the innocent victim was killed as a result of being unable to defend themselves).

    POTG and the anti-gun mob begin their evaluation of DGUs from diametrically opposed positions. Thus, there is likely to be different conclusions regarding outcomes. As such, one could posit that given the data 1+1=2, the anti-gun cabal could declare that such outcome is bad because one of the ones is despicable, rendering the total invalid.

    1. avatar Red in CO says:

      That’s an excellent point

  2. avatar Dude says:

    Criminals don’t care about legality or morality. Most want to live. How about a public education campaign that teaches our future leaders and NFL stars that if they want to threaten bodily harm, then they forfeit their own life. Maybe then it wouldn’t be so shocking to their families when they’re shot dead.

    1. avatar Void says:

      Start shit get hit?

      1. avatar Dude says:

        Simple and catchy enough to stick. They should hire you.

        1. avatar Void says:

          Be out of a job too fast for a lot of reasons. Would be entertaining for most at the least.

      2. avatar John in AK says:

        Maybe modify that to “Start shit, get shot.”?

  3. avatar KTR says:

    “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

    Mark Twain

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      There are liars, there are outrageous liars, and there are scientific experts. …

  4. avatar GS650G says:

    If the state didn’t end up on the side of the criminal aggressor in these cases SYG laws clarifying when you can defend yourself might not be necessary.

    1. avatar Dude says:

      Exactly. Being able to leave unscathed would be subjective. You could end up being the victim again to the local prosecutor. Even if you’re vindicated, you still lose time, money, and reputation.

  5. avatar Chris says:

    Despite what their map says, Virginia is a stand your ground state, and has been for some time. It is worded a little differently; it doesn’t specifically say “stand your ground” or similar but there is no duty to retreat and it does have the typical wording that SYG usually has: if you are not the aggressor, there lawfully, etc. Hell we even have “excusable homicide” which is when you ARE the aggressor, but you back down and the other doesn’t, and then you have to defend yourself (but it is a pretty narrow definition).

    Of course, given the researcher’s sloppiness and bias, I’m not surprised they got it wrong.

    1. avatar Hoystory says:

      Likewise, California is also a Stand Your Ground state, though there is no law specifically stating that. There is case law in the state that eliminates any duty to retreat, and it’s been that way for about a century, see Andrew Branca’s “Law of Self Defense.”

  6. avatar Cliffh says:

    The first ingredient of any statistical survey is sample size. The second is to make sure percentages and raw numbers are properly relevant. The third is controlling variables. This study fails on all three counts. The conclusion massively overstated the data. Another instance of why most sociological studies are meaningless.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      Personally, I find that most sociologists are useless. Worse yet, most I have met are useless idiots. The coup de grace is that they are oblivious to their uselessness and stupidity.

  7. avatar Darkman says:

    Finally someone who understands surveys and statistical analysis. I’ve tried to explain the the unreliability of self serving polls on this site for years. They are all about mating the numbers to the desired result.

    1. avatar sound awake says:

      thats now known as occams funnel

  8. avatar Jon in CO says:

    Colorado has stand your ground, it’s just worded differently, and has a couple minor stipulations. It is, overall, the same.

    1. avatar Ty King says:

      Cali too, just in case law instead of statute.

    2. avatar Anymouse says:

      The datasets are flawed. They should look at Duty to Retreat vs other states. SYG means different things in different states. Some place the burden of proof on the state to prove it wasn’t defensive, which can prevent charges even being brought. Others make it an affirmative defense that the shooter may have to claim at trial if the state charges.

  9. avatar Sam Hill says:

    The study is a perfect example of, “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”
    The sheepels see it in print and they believe it, especially if it seems to fall in line with their own predisposition. If it weren’t true they wouldn’t print it.
    My guiding study is it better to have 12 judging you than 6 carrying you.

  10. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    This study by the doctors may not have included race as a factor. But Doctor John Lott has used race in his analysis of stand your ground laws. And he found that black people are the majority to use stand your ground as a reason for defending themselves.

    Black on Black crime and armed self defense.

  11. avatar Pa John says:

    Imagine if we could somehow convince President Trump to simply start tweeting about how American gun manufacturers should each label at least one of their current or future AR-15 product lines as “Militia Rifles”. I suppose this could apply to American made AK-47/74’s and other similar semi-auto rifles as well. But the point would simply be to call the AR’s and AK’s and similar rifles as what they are: The closest thing to ideal militia weapons available for We The People at this period in time.

    Then all discussions and reporting with the propaganda terminology of “assault weapons” and so forth could be effectively neutered and rendered impotent. Militia rifles and handguns would be referred to as militia firearms as a matter of course, far too wide spread and endlessly repetitively done for U.S. corporate media to effectively ignore, easily counteracting and correcting media bias and misdirection as required from there on out. Militia firearms, necessary to the security of a free state of existence.

    If you are an adult American citizen you ARE the militia, should the need arise and you choose to volunteer. “A well regulated militia, BEING NECESSARY to the security of a free state,”… (of existence) … “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

    Stop pussyfooting around and make it painfully clear exactly why these domestic enemies of the U.S. Constitution keep focusing so much of their hatred on our rifles, even though statistically speaking they are so relatively rarely ever used in crime. They are specifically seeking to destroy the ability of We The People to form ourselves into effective militias as required to ensure the security of our free state of existence, most especially as the final check and balance to an increasingly out of control government, just as our nation’s founders knew would be required from time to time.

    Call the AR’s and AK’s and so forth “militia weapons” because that is what they are, and endlessly make it abundantly clear that they are vitally necessary for the preservation of our liberty as so clearly outlined in the 2nd Amendment. Do that and do it loudly and boldly and without fear, and much of the anti-American / anti-gun propaganda begins to become unmistakably clear for the poison to our continued liberty that it is.

    So, how do we get Trump to start tweeting about the need for American firearm manufacturers to make and sell AR’s and etc. called “Militia firearms”? Hmmmm..

    1. avatar Red in CO says:

      The left hates militia groups and fundamentally disagrees with the core concept, for obvious reasons. What would the benefit of your idea be?

      1. avatar Mark N. says:

        In fact, the Left equates militia with violent hate groups, “bitter clingers” as they were known during the 2016 election cycle.

  12. avatar sound awake says:

    how about correlating what really matters:
    syg/jhr/dgu to overall reduction in violent crime rate due to violent criminals being deterred from acting because theyre dead or dont want to become dead

  13. avatar t says:

    It would be really helpful if people writing this information for general public consumption would STOP using acronyms without clearly expressing what they mean in their writing. Its presumptuous to the extreme to expect people to just figure it out. SPELL IT OUT. Otherwise your writing gets misinterpreted or readers lose interest because it reads like a technical document in a field they are not familiar with. I am NOT stupid and I HATE making assumptions about what is meant. IF you are writing DO NOT BE LAZY. SPELL IT OUT. Ok I am done now, rant over.

  14. avatar Timothy Toroian says:

    The homicides or other firearm use considered justified by the left seem to be those committed by the “underprivileged” criminal.

  15. avatar ROGER COCO says:

    Every case is different, they have different circumstances, different conditions, different problems, thus making many solutions possible but maybe not practical any law under that kind off life and death pressure is just pure unethical, unfair, BULLSHIT.
    I believe in the principles of the US Constitution, but not always in its interpretation. If, we are too believe that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL we must mean MANKIND which would surely include WOMEN too of all races and colors..
    If our founding fathers were as fair as they they should have been we could have avoided The Civvil War, some of the Indian Wars and the ERA..
    As for our 2nd Amendment rights, what’s the big deal, the definition of “INFRINGED””is clearly explaine in the dictionary. Are we THE UNITED STATES of AMERICA, or are we are 50 independent countries? If we are tnot united this government owes us a hell of a lot of back taxes.
    If we are still THE HOME of the BRAVE and the LAND of the FREE it is time to resolve this 2nd Amendment disaster. This should not be to hard to do if we “stick to our guns” because things will get ugly..
    The BILL of RIGHTS are the 10 Amendments of the US CONSTITUTION which were supppose to be a GUARANTEE to ALL AMERICANS of certain INALIENABLE RIGHTS.
    It should be a simple matter to go through the official record of ALL ELECTED OFFICIALS to see if they violated their oath to “PROTECT and DEFEND” the Constitution, and if they did, just, ask them to resign. Of course,if they will not, things could get ugly, but the proof will be out in the open, for ALL TO SEE.

    As Ben Franklin said “to keep ones freedom it may be necessary to water the tree of Liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots” .

    1. avatar Ron Beason says:

      Well said, and well thought out conclusions. Not practical “right now,” unless, as you say, things get ugly, then, maybe. A major problem with Sociology, is that those studying it come into the study with their own prejudices. And this is true of most people in general. People have their opinions set early in life, and seldom change. I went into law enforcement as an NRA member, and strong 2a supporter. I was aghast at the ignorance, and prejudices against gun owners by some of my colleagues. And it has only gotten worse in the ensuing 45 years. The candidate pool has gone down with the quality of real education in schools, most schools “indoctrinate” wth leftist ideas, texts shoddily handle “rights,” and removal of religion, means that “god given rights ” become moot!

      1. avatar PM in Fl. says:

        Ron, good points all.

  16. avatar M Bowie says:

    Michigan has been a SYG state since 2006. (PA 310 2006)

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