The authors also assumed that enhanced self-defense laws deter non-confrontational crimes like burglary [page 2]. However, property crimes like burglary are more likely to increase when more citizens partake of their civil right of self-defense. In The Bias Against Guns, John Lott explained:
If you make something more difficult, people will be less likely to engage in it … just as grocery shoppers switch between different types of produce depending on costs, criminals switch between different kinds of prey depending on the cost of attacking. Economists call this, appropriately enough, “the substitution effect.”
Instead of violent, confrontational crime like robbery to obtain a victim’s property, criminals wait until victims leave home before committing burglary, which presents less personal risk to themselves.
FBI crime data support Lott’s premise. As more law-abiding citizens arm themselves, violent crimes drop and property crimes rise. Of all FBI major crime categories, only burglary increased between 2000 and 2010 (over 5%). Meanwhile, homicide incidents decreased over 5%, robbery decreased 10%, and aggravated assaults decreased 15%.
Cheng and Hoekstra claimed they wanted to determine “whether strengthening self-defense laws deters criminals,” but including burglary is simply an attempt to derogate “castle doctrine” for doing what it should: causing criminals to commit more property crimes and fewer violent crimes.
The authors altered their own conclusions by beginning with a misleading dataset.
FBI data show that “castle doctrine” correlates with less violent crime, not more
The authors attempted to guess what violent crime rates should have been had “castle doctrine” states not enhanced their self-defense laws by comparing them to non-”castle doctrine” states [page 3].
One way to determine if states benefitted from enhanced self-defense laws is to ask whether violent crime rates increase or decrease after enactment. If rates increased, then enacting “castle doctrine” laws created a “cost” because higher rates meant greater victimization. If rates decreased, then these laws created a “savings” because of less victimization after enactment.
Averaging five or more years together gives a picture of the general level of violence during that time period. For the states in this study, the average year they enacted “castle doctrine” laws was 2006. Including non-enacting states’ performance before and after 2006 provides a comparison to see how well states did without enhanced self-defense laws. This dataset includes “before” years of 2000-2005 and “after” years of 2006-2010. For Stand Your Ground and full “castle doctrine” states, their year of enactment defines “before” and “after” periods, each with their murder, robbery, and aggravated assault rates averaged. If the average crime rate was lower in the “after” period, the state became safer.
The truth? States that adopted all three “castle doctrine” laws experienced the largest declines in all three violent crime rates, handily besting non-adopting states.
Stand Your Ground states (removing Duty to Retreat but not necessarily Civil Immunity Protection and Presumption of Reasonable Fear) averaged larger decreases in murder rates than non-adopting states, too. While their aggravated assaults declined on par with non-adopting states, their robbery rates — while dropping after enactment — declined less than non-adopting states:
These data suggest that Cheng and Hoekstra had a point only if their sole conclusion highlighted the smaller benefits of enacting No Duty to Retreat laws alone. To claim that homicide increased is questionable at best.
Most importantly, Cheng and Hoekstra suggested these laws affect crime rates. If true, the data show adopting all three “castle doctrine” laws causes a noticeable decrease in violent crime.