Study: 'Stand your ground' laws linked to increase in violent deaths

The study, conducted by researchers from University of Pennsylvania and the United Kingdom, looked at 41 states, and over 170,000 firearm homicides over 18 years.

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ROCHESTER, Minn. — A new study has found that so-called "stand your ground" laws are associated with increases in violent deaths, including "deaths that could potentially have been avoided."

The study, conducted by researchers from University of Pennsylvania and the United Kingdom and which was published last month in the journal JAMA Network Open, analyzed 170,000 firearm homicides in 41 states between 1999 and 2017.

These included 23 states that enacted "stand your ground" laws and 18 states that did not. Currently, Minnesota lawmakers are considering such legislation, while North Dakota and South Dakota have already instituted "stand your ground" laws.

The study found that states with "stand your ground" laws had on average an 8% monthly increase in firearm homicides. Though not all states saw increases, some southern states saw as much as 16-33% increased rates of homicide, leading to 58-72 more killings a month.

The study is the first to comprehensively look at the effect nationwide of "stand your ground" laws, say its authors, citing a broad review of similar studies in 2021 that found flaws in their methodology.


"Stand your ground" laws remove what's know as "the duty to retreat" requirement before using deadly force in self-defense in the home, car, workplace and in some cases any location that is public. Some states restrict the law to self-defense only , while others expand it to being in the presence of a violent felony or even burglary.

Florida passed the first such legislation in 2005. Since then, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 27 states have followed suit, including both South Dakota and North Dakota in 2021.

The new research adds to a growing scientific literature establishing harm incurred to public health in the wake of "stand your ground" laws, as well as studies showing the laws have little good to show for them.

In 2018, for example, the think tank the RAND Corp. found the evidence establishing legitimate defensive use of stand your ground laws to be inconclusive. In 2019 the organization wrote that no rigorous research could be found showing the laws prevent violent crime, with moderate evidence that suggested "these laws are associated with an increase in homicides."

The authors of the study noted the concerns of critics that stand your ground laws could "exacerbate social inequalities in experiencing violent crime," due to the fact that threat perception is subject to biases based upon race.

While the authors looked at demographic characteristics of who experiences increases in violent homicide in connection to "stand your ground" laws, they did not find any demographic specific effect in their analysis.

Though the study found states varied widely in how much the laws increased the homicide rate, it reported that no state studied had a lower homicide rate following implementation of the laws.

There are currently numerous bills in the Minnesota House and Senate seeking to enshrine stand your ground in state law. One would certify that an "individual may meet force with superior force when the individual's objective is defensive," adding, "the individual is not required to retreat ... (and) may continue defensive actions against an assailant until the danger has ended."


But even those states without a "stand your ground" law, those that still posit a duty to retreat can nonetheless find enforcing the law a murky matter.

In 2019, for example, the Olmsted County attorney dismissed charges against a Rochester man after two juries deadlocked on murder charges for shooting a driver in 2018 during a roadside altercation.

In that case, upon feeling threatened, the individual charged had retreated to his car in order to retrieve his gun, according to news reports, then returned to continue the confrontation, ending in the shooting.

Following two separate trials, juries could not agree if he had deployed deadly force only as a last resort.

Paul John Scott is the health correspondent for NewsMD and the Forum News Service. He is a novelist and was an award winning magazine journalist for 15 years prior to joining the FNS in 2019.
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