Stand Your Ground Is Unsound: The Data Speaks (May 14, 2015)

Stand Your Ground

Earlier this month, Robert J. Spitzer, a political scientist at SUNY Cortland, and author of the new book Guns Across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights, wrote a guest Op-Ed for The New York Times. Entitled “Stand Your Ground Makes No Sense,” Spitzer leverages a variety of hard data to put forth what is to most sensible people, a fairly logical conclusion: “Not only have these laws failed to increase public safety, they have also turned the clock back to the mythologized mayhem of the Wild West.”

National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre famously said at aDecember 2012 press conference, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” No matter how many times I hearken back to the statement’s context – the aftermath of the tragic Newtown, Connecticut school shooting – it remains as cynical and jarring as ever. Using the death of small children as an opportunity to advance the NRA’s mission to militarize every corner of the country, LaPierre called for an initiative to “put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.”

But what happens when overly permissive gun laws benefit the bad guys? What do we do when presented with solid proof that our regulations codify murder, racial profiling and render all of us less safe? What if instead of “thwart[ing] these monsters,” as LaPierre insists is the result of laxer laws, we are instead empowering them?

Well that’s precisely the argument Spitzer offers, using metrics and research put forth by such disparate entities as The Tampa Bay Times, The Wall Street Journal, Texas A&M University, the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Urban Institute. In specifically evaluating the various state Stand Your Ground laws that achieved cultural ubiquity with the February 2012 killing of the young, black and unarmed Trayvon Martin by self-styled vigilante George Zimmerman, the conclusion is clear as daylight. Per Spitzer, “Nearly 60 percent of those making self-defense claims when a person was killed had been arrested at least once before; a third of those had been accused of violent crimes in the past; over a third had illegally carried guns in the past or had threatened others with them.”

In short, the guys and girls amped up on NRA propaganda, armed to the teeth and ready to shoot, are themselves most often the danger. Spitzer writes, “In 79 percent of the [Stand Your Ground] cases, the assailant could have retreated to avoid the confrontation. In 68 percent, the person killed was unarmed.”

And what’s more, though we need to do little more than turn on the cable news to confirm the trend, “In Stand Your Ground states, justifiable shooting results ranged from 3 to 15 percent…When the shooter was white and the victim black, 36 percent were ruled justified.” Legal rulings notwithstanding, the numbers are clear. In Stand Your Ground territory, the victim is more likely to be a person of color when the shooter is white.

The mass slaughter of private citizens, including children. The legitimacy of race-based hunting. The genocide of unarmed men and women. Say ye what you like Second Amendment zealots, but this IS NOT what the Bill of Rights intended. Once more with pure academic spirit, let’s revisit the literal wording of the Constitutional revision:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

There’s nothing “well regulated” about an angry white mob of uncoordinated, often untrained, sometimes criminally convicted civilians off firing away at the “other.” What Second Amendment fanatics often forget (by choice) is that Stand Your Ground laws deprive others of the unalienable rights asserted in theDeclaration of Independence. Remember “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?” And before you even start right wing trolls, I am not advocating for a complete suppression of gun culture. Whether or not I’m a fan (not), I respect our differences. But Stand Your Ground Laws are a proven cover for unjustified murder. The data is there. These laws need to go. Now.

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