On Wednesday, Washington Post opinion writer E.J. Dionne Jr. used the Michael Dunn conviction as “proof” that we need to repeal “stand your ground” laws.
(Briefly: Michael Dunn was found guilty of three charges of attempted second-degree murder. After ordering the victims to turn down their “loud music,” Dunn shot into their vehicle, killing one. Dunn claimed self-defense, saying he thought they were going to attack him.)
Dionne’s three main points offer a classic example of an op-ed writer promoting a misleading agenda.
1. Dionne: “['Stand your ground' laws] aggravate mistrust across racial lines.”
To support this claim, Dionne cited Tampa Bay Times research which examined over 200 Florida court cases involving “stand your ground” and concluded: “Defendants claiming ‘stand your ground’ are more likely to prevail if the victim is black.”
But the Tampa Bay Times ignored their own evidence to the contrary: two-thirds of white and black defendants claiming “stand your ground” protection were exonerated. In other words, the law was applied equitably.
The Tampa Bay Times also misrepresented their data in order to imply that Florida’s “stand your ground” law favored white defenders. But for most black attackers, the victims were black, too.
Finally, black defenders living in “stand your ground” states experienced a larger increase in justifiable homicides than their contemporaries living in non-enacting states. Also, black defenders shooting white attackers declined in non-enacting states.
If Dionne wants to play the race card over Stand Your Ground, then the most racist states are those like California, New York, and Illinois, which limit law-abiding blacks’ ability to defend themselves.
(For more on this research, read here.)
2.Dionne: “They appear to increase, rather than decrease, crime.”
Dionne cited Texas A&M researchers Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra, who concluded that enhanced self-defense laws like “stand your ground” increased homicide.
There were many fatal errors with this research. The biggest error: Cheng and Hoekstra began with an incomplete dataset, including states that didn’t enhance their laws while ignoring others that did. Beginning with a flawed foundation led to invalid conclusions.
On average, “stand your ground” states experienced a 10% decline in their murder rates, and experienced declines in robbery and aggravated assaults. Non-adopting states averaged a 2% increase in their murder rates.
If Dionne is correct in saying that “stand your ground” laws affect violence, then non-adopting states are guilty of not empowering their law-abiding citizens to defend themselves against violent attackers.
(For more on this research, read here.)
3. Dionne: “We should not have had to go through another racially charged trial in Florida to learn all this.”
Dunn is white and his victims are black; Dionne irrationally uses these facts to link the Dunn case to the George Zimmerman case and “stand your ground.” His claims of racial injustice are propaganda.
Even ABC News admits that “stand your ground” laws had nothing to do with either the George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn cases. Both defendants claimed straight self-defense, which ABC acknowledged as predating “stand your ground.” Back then, retreat was not required if the defender was at imminent risk of death or serious injury.
Michael Dunn’s current age is 47, and each guilty charge carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years, running consecutively. This minimum sentence of 60 years likely equates to a life sentence, the strongest conviction reasonably possible in this case. Even Dionne admits Dunn “could spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Dionne misses the most important lesson from the very case he cited as the reason to repeal “stand your ground,” something even the Tampa Bay Times proved over 200 times during their research: You can’t kill somebody, claim protection under “stand your ground,” and expect the justice system to say, “Oh, if that’s your claim, it’s okay.”
You can claim justification under “stand your ground,” but keep these vital truths in mind before using deadly force:
- You will be investigated by the police.
- You can be charged with one or more serious felony offenses.
- You can be prosecuted in a court of law.
- You can be convicted.
- You can spend the rest of your life in prison.
Dionne ignored all these facts in order to attack “stand your ground.” But like the researchers he cited, he made fallacious assumptions and got all of it wrong.
Should we trust people like Dionne when deciding how and when we can defend our lives?