After the killing of an unarmed Black teenager named Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, the shooter, George Zimmerman, invoked Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” (SYG) defense. A few months later, PBS reported on a study by Texas A&M University that strongly suggested that these types of laws would lead to more deaths.
In the 11 years since that study, that’s been proven true. According to a Rand Corp. analysis released in January of this year, there is evidence to support that such laws increase firearm homicide rates.
Another analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found similar conclusions.
“State-level increases in homicide and firearm homicide rates reached 10% or higher for many Southern states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana," it said.
Additionally, the Southern Poverty Law Center has said “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) laws exacerbate problems in a legal system that is already rife with racial inequity, saying “nonwhite people are stopped, racially profiled, searched and arrested by police at higher rates than white people and more likely to be sentenced to greater terms than white people.”
Nevertheless, SYG laws have found fertile ground in especially conservative states, according to Dr. Robert Spitzer, a distinguished service professor emeritus of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland.
“The spread of stand your ground laws reflects the political muscle of the NRA and the gun rights issue in the Republican Party in conservative states,” Spitzer told Capital Tonight. “This political force has logged successes in spite of the fact that numerous studies demonstrate that SYG laws do nothing to increase safety but in fact increase homicides and make violent confrontations more likely.”
Case in point: Last Thursday night in Kansas City, Missouri, another unarmed Black teenager named Ralph Yarl knocked on the wrong door to collect his two younger brothers who were on a playdate. Reportedly, an 84-year-old white man answered the door, and shot Yarl in the forehead and in the right arm. According to The New York Times, when the prosecutor announced that the man had been charged, he said what many already believed: “There was a racial component to the case.”
It’s not yet clear if the alleged shooter will be using a SYG defense, but he may. Missouri has such a law, as do 37 other states — an increase of nearly 60% since Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida in 2012.
“One of the reasons why these laws are proliferating is because they have expanded the areas in which traditional self-defense laws would have other requirements,” said Paula Johnson, professor of law at Syracuse University and the director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative.
Johnson explained that in the Trayvon Martin case, the stand your ground law was used by George Zimmerman in a way that expanded on the areas in which self defense has historically been used as a defense.
The law, according to some reporting, is also not applied uniformly.
For example, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting, women in abusive relationships and people of color have tried and failed to invoke SYG laws in many cases, “showing that these laws perpetuate inequities that are baked into the legal system."
Professor Johnson also makes a direct connection between barriers to voting and public policy that hurts minorities and people of color.
“When there are restrictions on voting, that means people are locked out of the system to have their voices reflected in the laws that are passed,” Johnson said. “District attorneys for example are elected. It’s also important regarding the people who serve on juries. Frequently, juries are selected from the voter registration rolls. People of color need to be on those rolls in order to participate in the criminal justice system.”
These kinds of shootings are not exclusive to SYG states.
On Saturday, a 20-year-old made a wrong turn while driving through rural upstate New York with friends. As she turned into a driveway, the home’s owner emerged from the house and shot twice.
Kaylin Gillis died as emergency crews attempted CPR.