Two Studies on Stand Your Ground

Two years ago in The American Spectator, I described the frustration I’ve experienced following empirical research about gun control. It turns out that the topic is just so complicated — there are a million different factors that influence crime rates, and thus that researchers must “control” for to isolate the effects of gun-control laws — that a social scientist can get just about any result he wants. For example, research on concealed-carry laws has found that they decrease crime, that they have no measurable effect at all, and even (in a couple of studies) that they increase crime.

Well, we’re off to the races on Stand Your Ground. We have two new studies, both of which find that the law increases homicide. One says the effect is found among whites but not blacks. Of course, there might be some underlying factor, not accounted for in the studies, that causes states both to implement Stand Your Ground laws and to suffer increased homicide rates. Or, the increased homicide rates could come largely from cases where people legitimately defend themselves against attackers. Or, the law’s critics could be correct, and Stand Your Ground might be making people think they have an excuse to murder.

I think a much fruitful approach is to look at actual, individual Stand Your Ground cases and sort out what’s happening when the law is applied. When injustices are found, a few questions are in order: Was the law properly applied? If not, can the problem be fixed by an appeals court? And if so, can the law be changed to prevent this kind of injustice in the future, or does it need to be scrapped entirely?

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