Stand Your Ground Laws and Crime Rates in the United States

Stand Your Ground Laws and Crime Rates in the United States

Stand Your Ground Laws and Crime Rates in the United States

Literature Review

            In the last ten years, researchers have increased their focus on the effects of Stand Your Ground legislation. One area that specifically draws scholarly attention is the exploration of the effects of these policies on crime rates in the United States. However, varying results have been detected by different researchers across the scholarly divide. For instance, Humphreys, Gasparrini, and Wiebe (2017) argue that the removal of barriers on where and when people can utilize lethal force has been strongly linked to a significant increase in firearm-related homicides in the United States. Humphreys, Gasparrini, and Wiebe (2017) used interrupted time series design to assess change in the degree of homicides and deaths brought by the use of firearms after the introduction of the law in Florida. The study found that the introduction of Florida’s ‘stand your ground policy was positively related to 24 percent upsurge in homicide rates and 31 percent rise in firearm-related deaths.

            The continued utilization of lethal force as a defense mechanism is a practice backed by criminal legal systems. Humphreys, Gasparrini, and Wiebe (2017) observe that since the colonial regime, individuals have been given the ‘duty to retreat’ from the imminent threats before seeking the application of force. However, when force cannot be averted for self-defense, individuals should demonstrate that efforts have been made to retreat first. To this end, the ‘castle doctrine’ is an exception, providing people who meet threats in their own areas of residence immunity with respect to the application of lethal force. Many states in the United States have introduced amendments to their self-defense policies, eliminating the duty to retreat and giving room for the application of lethal force in circumstances in which an individual may perceive a threat of harm. The policy applies to the public as well as law enforcement officers in varying capacities. ‘Stand your ground’ legislations have so far been introduced in twenty-three states in the united states and more are expected to follow. However, concerns have been raised that these laws worsen aggressive encounters that increase crime rates.

 The effects of ‘stand your ground’ policies have also been linked to an increase in homicides and hospitalizations in states that have implemented it. While Humphreys, Gasparrini, and Wiebe (2017) focus on homicides, McClellan and Tekin (2017) expand the scope of their study to include possible injuries. McClellan and Tekin (2017) revealed that these legislations lead to a significant increase in homicide rates across different parts of the country. Based on the estimates developed, McClellan and Tekin (2017) indicate that at least 30 people are murdered every month as a consequence of the introduction of ‘stand your ground’ rules. Moreover, these laws have been strongly associated with a significant rise in cases of hospitalizations related to firearm-inflicted injuries. As such, serious skepticism has been raised against the view that ‘stand your ground’ laws make the public securer. 

            Critics of ‘stand your ground’ rules often support their justifications by mentioning the adverse effects of gun rights. According to McClellan and Tekin (2017), the public discourses about gun rights and gun control legislation often resurface in the United States whenever high profile shooting tragedies take place. These incidents have increased significantly in the recent past across the United States. The major concern is the shooring incidesnt perpetrated in elementary schools. In addition, young individuals have been killed, for example, Trayvon Martin, a teenager aged 17 years, who was shot by a community watch coordinator for a gated society in Florida. McClellan and Tekin (2017) remark that the sequence of events that prompted the shooting incident generated concerns over the relevance of ‘stand your ground’ laws in protecting citizens. In fact, the public health and safety problems associated with the implementation of these laws have raised major concerns.

            Many researchers use homicide rates as the basis of discrediting ‘stand your ground’ laws. To the contrary, Cheng and Hoekstra (2012) take a different approach by assessing the effects of these legislations on other forms of crime such as burglary robbery, as well as aggravated assault. Cheng and Hoekstra (2012) employed a difference-in-differences design by using state-level statistics and variations in law adoptions to determine the impacts self-defense laws. Their study found no proof of reduction in cases of burglary, robbery, and aggravated assault after the introduction of these laws. Instead, the scholars observed that homicides had increased by approximately 8%, and were extensively categorized as police murders. Moreover, they encourage individuals from all quarters to take actions whenever they feel they are in danger. Cheng and Hoekstra (2012) also sought to determine if boosting self-defense laws reduce crime. They found that there was no significant relationship between crime reduction in these three categories and self-defense laws introduced.

People often anticipate crimes to reduce after the introduction of the castle doctrine. However, they make the criminals bolder such that they are willing to react to the utilization of lethal force to safeguard themselves. Such incidents are likely to cause serious injuries and many deaths if they occurred. However, Cheng and Hoekstra (2012) established that there is minimal evidence of deterrence in robbery, burglary, and aggravated assault. They suggest that there is minimal evidence that such rules offer positive spillovers by deterring general forms of crime. In fact, more studies would have to be carried out to determine the relationship between the stand your ground rules and crime reduction.

Proponents of ‘stand your ground’ laws often argue that self-defense legislations have significantly reduced residential burglaries. Moreover, most criminals would be cautious considering the possibilities that many people may be armed, especially when they are in their residencies. Similarly, Chamlin and Krajewski (2016) assert that ‘stand your ground’ rules have boosted home safety. Considering the pervasiveness of the castle doctrine law, Chamlin and Krajewski (2016) sought to explore whether these laws have attained their objective of minimizing the levels of crime across different jurisdictions. They examined the effects of Oklahoma Stand Your Ground Law on the cases of residential and non-residential burglaries using interrupted time series modeling strategies. The study indicated that the law attained its overall goal of improving residential security and reduction of home-related burglaries. However, they cautioned that such laws had the unprecedented impact of increasing cases of burglaries and crimes committed outside people’s areas of residence. Moreover, many people are vulnerable when they are in public places. Criminals can take advantage of such loopholes to execute their crime.

Self-defense laws have generated intended and unintended consequences in communities. According to Chamlin and Krajewski (2016), the ‘stand your ground’ law explains this phenomenon using the Merton model to discourage criminal activities. They include inadequate awareness of the causal processes that influence the desired outcome of social action, the human errors in the execution of a specific social action, as well as lack of capacity to expect the execution of a specific social action. For instance, Chamlin and Krajewski (2016) mention that the ARIMA  analyses indicate that ‘stand your ground’ laws resulted in small, but a temporary decline in the total number of cases of residential burglaries, and a small, but a lasting reduction in the cases of attempted residential burglaries. 

Finally, few studies have investigated the effects of stand your ground policies on race-related crimes and injustices. For instance, Murphy (2018) states that stand your ground laws were designed to promote self defense, but they have reinforced white supremacy in public spheres and male supremacy in residential places. Murphy uses a statistical assessment process of racial and gender biases on the enforcements of stand your ground rules to deter other commonly mentioned cases. Stand your ground cases in Florida from 2006 to 2013 revealed that the likelihood of convictions for white defendants against white victims in ordinary cases is often fairly high at approximately 90 percent (Murphy, 2018). On the other hand, the likelihood of convictions of black defendants against white victims borders 100 percent. Further, the researcher found that the likelihood of convictions for female defendants in ordinary domestic cases is about 40 percent. For female defendants in the same situations, the convictions often approach 80 percent. In light of these patterns, the researcher infers that stand your ground policies are major contributors of the legal institutionalization of racism and sexism in the United States. Therefore, crimes associated with racial biases after the introduction of stand your ground laws have also provided grounds for critics to discredit the policy.


Chamlin, M. B., & Krajewski, A. E. (2016). Use of force and home safety: An impact

assessment of Oklahoma’s Stand Your Ground Law. Deviant Behavior37(3), 237-245.

Cheng, C., & Hoekstra, M. (2012). Does strengthening self-defense law deter crime or escalate

violence? Evidence from Castle Doctrine (No. w18134). Working Paper, National

Bureau of Economic Research.

Humphreys, D. K., Gasparrini, A., & Wiebe, D. J. (2017). Evaluating the impact of Florida’s

“stand your ground” self-defense law on homicide and suicide by firearm: an interrupted

time series study. JAMA internal medicine177(1), 44-50.

McClellan, C., & Tekin, E. (2017). Stand your ground laws, homicides, and injuries. Journal of

human resources52(3), 621-653.

Murphy, J. (2018). Are “Stand Your Ground” Laws Racist and Sexist? A statistical analysis of

cases in Florida, 2005–2013*. Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), 99(1), 439–

452. https://doi.org/10.1111/ssqu.12402


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