Let's Use All the Data This Time: Are Stand Your Ground Laws Racist?

Since George Zimmerman’s exoneration, Stand Your Ground laws have been under attack. President Obama injected race into the discussion by referring to the “pain” the black community feels over the Zimmerman verdict, and by claiming that the outcome would have been different had Trayvon Martin been white. Speaking at the NAACP convention, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder claimed Stand Your Ground laws “undermine public safety” and “sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.” Both want these enhanced self-defense laws “reviewed.” (Read: “repealed.”) This rhetoric culminated in state Representative Alan Williams sponsoring a bill to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground.

Wildly misleading research supporting the notion that Stand Your Ground is racist has since appeared.

The Tampa Bay Times examined over 200 Florida court cases involving Stand Your Ground, concluding: “Defendants claiming ‘stand your ground’ are more likely to prevail if the victim is black.” However, Second Amendment scholar David Hardy analyzed the Times dataset and found that Florida courts applied Stand Your Ground equitably: Two-thirds of white and black defendants claiming Stand Your Ground protection were exonerated.

John Roman of the Urban Institute published a report titled “Do Stand Your Ground Laws Worsen Racial Disparities?” After examining the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide data for years 2005-2009, he concluded that when white defenders kill black attackers, “the justifiable homicide rate is 34 percent,” compared to a 3% rate when the defender is black and the attacker white. Roman concluded that Stand Your Ground laws make racial disparities “more pronounced” and are “bad laws.”

Considering that Supplementary Homicide data for the years 2000-2010 were available at the time of Roman’s study, he curiously chose a truncated dataset to “prove” his point. Researchers call this “sampling error,” where an abridged dataset contradicts the findings from all available data.

The entire Supplemental Homicide dataset for the years 2000-2011 clearly shows, like most laws liberalizing the civil right of self-defense, how blacks benefit from Stand Your Ground at least as much as whites.

To determine if Stand Your Ground laws create “racial disparities,” Roman should have addressed questions such as:

  • Did justifiable homicides by black defenders increase, remain the same, or decrease after states enacted Stand Your Ground?
  • Did changes in interracial justifiable homicides benefit only certain demographics?
  • Are there other contextual issues that may explain any changes in justifiable homicide trends? (E.g.: If law enforcement also committed more justifiable homicides, this may indicate a general increase in violent attacks.)

Had a legitimate conclusion been the objective, a researcher could have collated the 17 states enacting Stand Your Ground between 2005 and 2007, versus the 19 states that enacted no enhanced self-defense laws. Comparing the two state groupings would determine if old-fashioned self-defense laws make blacks safer.