The U.S. Civil Rights Commission voted Friday to investigate racial bias in Stand Your Ground laws, the ALEC and NRA-backed statutes that authorize the unfettered use of deadly force in self-defense. The vote initiates the first full-blown investigation by the commission in decades, according to Commissioner Michael Yaki.
The announcement comes as trial approaches for George Zimmerman, who sparked national outrage over Stand Your Ground laws when he invoked Florida’s law as a total defense for his shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Police eventually decided to charge Zimmerman, but he may still raise the defense at trial.
Around the country, laws authorize the use of deadly force with no duty to retreat, giving individuals immense discretion to shoot and kill even when other remedies would eliminate fear of assault without costing a life. Just this past month in Alabama, prosecutors opted not to charge a woman who shot a 21-year-old African American outside her home who turned out to be her ex-boyfriend’s step-son, and a jury cleared another defendant who shot a man dead who hit him with a socket wrench.
A 2012 study found that defendants invoking the defense that they were “standing their ground” are significantly more likely to prevail if the victim was black. Other research has found that states with Stand Your Ground laws have more homicides, and that the laws do not deter crime at all.
Although outrage followed the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, no state has since altered or repealed its Stand Your Ground statute, in spite of several attempts.
The commission voted 5-3 in favor of the investigation, the Huffington Post reports, meaning one of the body’s non-Democrats joined with the majority. This is the second year the Commission has voted to hold such an investigation. Last year, it also voted 5-3, with Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom, a Republican, joining the majority. Yaki told the Huffington Post that they have both the funds and the staff director they lacked last year to move forward with the study.