Study: Stand your ground laws don't deter crime

They also increase the murder rate

By Alex Halperin
January 8, 2013 12:04AM (UTC)
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This undated photo provided by the Martin family shows Trayvon Martin snowboarding. (AP Photo/Martin Family)

A shocking study out of Texas A&M University shows that laws that encourage people to use their guns more freely increase the number of homicides.

Since 2005, more then 20 states have enacted "stand your ground" or "castle doctrine" laws that expand the circumstances under which gun owners can use deadly force and to varying degrees reduce the penalties for doing so. "A long-standing principle of English common law, from which most U.S. self-defense law is derived, is that one has a 'duty to retreat' before using lethal force against an assailant," the study says. "The exception to this principle is when one is threatened by an intruder in one’s own home, as the home is one’s 'castle.'” These laws became a focus of national debate after the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in an Orlando, Fla., suburb.


Castle doctrine laws, which have support from the NRA and other gun groups, are designed to serve as a crime deterrent. They also increase the circumstances under which it is acceptable practice to shoot someone you don't like the look of. However, according to the study they have no discernible safety benefit:

Our view is that it is a priori reasonable to expect that strengthening self-defense law would deter crime, we find this is not the case. More significantly, results indicate that castle doctrine laws increase total homicides by around 8 percent.  Put differently, the laws induce an additional 600 homicides per year across the 21 states in our sample that enacted castle doctrine.

A study like this might prompt gun rights advocates to consider evidence about a policy they support and perhaps reevaluate that policy. A more cynical view is that the gun lobby doesn't care about empirical evidence and wants to increase the presence of weapons in the public sphere regardless of the human cost.

I've reached out to the NRA and the Gun Owners of America for a comment and will update this post if they respond.

Alex Halperin

Alex Halperin is news editor at Salon. You can follow him on Twitter @alexhalperin.

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Gun Control Gun Rights Guns Stand-your-ground