COMMENTARY | Hardly a day goes by when "Stand Your Ground" laws don't pop up in the news. A Florida woman got 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot. She is claiming "Stand Your Ground" laws as part of her defense against her husband. This week, a Florida judge ruled a 69-year-old man could not use "Stand Your Ground" as a defense in his shooting of a man playing basketball with his daughter. And the use of a "Stand Your Ground" law is at the heart of a death on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. Oh, and there's the latest detail in that ongoing George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case.
But how much of that speculation focuses on whether these laws reduce crime or not?
To calculate this, I examine the average crime rates for all states in 2004 (the year before the first official "Stand Your Ground" laws were passed). I also compare the data to 2009 crime rate statistics, the most recent year I could get an accurate state-by-state calculation.
To look at crime rates, I use the violent crime rate (number of murders, forcible rapes, robberies and aggravated assault incidents per 100,000 population) as opposed to raw statistics, allowing for a better state-by-state comparison. I also look at property crime rates (burglary, larceny/theft and motor vehicle theft). Both are calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau.
There were 19 states with "Stand Your Ground" laws in one sample, and those 31 states (in addition to the District of Columbia) that have not yet passed such laws. For violent crime rates, there was no overall data for Illinois and Minnesota, so I divided the total of that sample by 30 states instead for violent crime rates.
For those who passed "Stand Your Ground" laws, the violent crime rate did fall from 446.42 per 100,000 residents in 2004 to 431.34 per 100,000 residents in 2009, while those that did not pass them rose from 398.53 to 398.62 over that same timespan. This does seem to indicate some support for these "Stand Your Ground" laws.
The property crime rate fell by 14.5 percent among the 19 "Stand Your Ground" states, but also for those not passing such laws (31 states plus DC). A 10.95 percent reduction occurred among states not passing such "Stand Your Ground" laws.
On one hand, "Stand Your Ground" laws reduced the violent crime rate, but it was still overall higher than among states that never passed such laws. Both samples of states (passing "Stand Your Ground" laws and not passing them), experienced a decline in property crime rates from 2004 to 2009, though it was a slightly stronger dip among "Stand Your Ground' law states.
"Stand Your Ground" laws do seem to reduce crime rates, but they also tend to have violent and property crime rates higher than those who have not passed the law. Perhaps this explains the intuitive appeal of the "Stand Your Ground" laws, and why they were passed in the first place.