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Disregarding Empirical Research, Florida Panel Largely Endorses ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law

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"Disregarding Empirical Research, Florida Panel Largely Endorses ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law"

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In the months since the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin drew national attention to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law and others like it that authorize the unfettered use of deadly force in self-defense, several empirical studies have found these laws are associated with a significant increase in homicides, have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, and do not appear to deter crime at all.

But you wouldn’t know any of this from the draft report coming out of a Florida task force commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott. Following a six-month review, not one of these studies were even incorporated into the task force’s recommendation that the NRA-backed Stand Your Ground law remain largely unchanged. Instead, the recommendation states:

[A]ll persons have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be and are conducting themselves in a lawful manner.

The task force did recommend that the Legislature review some of the law’s language to clarify what the law means for police, who can claim self-defense, and whether it encourages vigilantism. But for the most part, the recommendation stood as a strong defense of the law that arguably gives perpetrators more authority to shoot and kill than U.S. troops have in war.

The recommendation surprised few stakeholders — among the six lawmakers on the 19-member panel selected by Gov. Scott were two who helped draft the original law, another two who voted for it in 2005, and the chief sponsor of a law prohibiting doctors from asking patients about guns. Three are members of corporate front-group ALEC, which backed the law. Others who have supported gun control legislation say they were excluded from the task force.

In a column published just before the release of the task force’s findings that cites the various academic studies on “Stand Your Ground” laws, Harvard Injury Control Research Center Director David Hemenway, ironically, implores the task force not to “ignore the evidence,” writing:

I was pleased to hear that one of its monthly meetings would be devoted to scholarly research about the effects of the law since its passage in 2005. This was the Task Force’s chance to take scientific evidence into its assessment of what has understandably become an emotionally charged issue.

The Task Force asked the University of Florida to conduct research on the impact of the state’s Stand Your Ground law. Not surprisingly the researchers were unable to draw strong conclusions given the data and the short time frame they were allowed. But frighteningly, the Task Force seemed to take the researchers’ incomplete report as evidence that Stand Your Ground is a good law. Task Force member and Stand Your Ground bill sponsor Rep. Dennis Baxley even went so far as to assert that the data supported his contention that the law is not associated with an increase in violent crime. Contrary to that claim, the best available research evidence indicates that Stand Your Ground laws are dangerous, with few redeeming benefits to society.

The task force still has until March to submit its final recommendations to the Legislature, although the incoming House speaker has already said he would not support major changes to the law.

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