Laws related to self-defense and the use of guns are among the most controversial policies in the United States. In Florida, the Stand Your Ground law, enacted in 2005, has sparked a number of debates on its potential consequences. The law is related to castle doctrine, which states that a person has the right to use deadly force when protecting their home (National Conference of State Legislature [NCSL], 2018). The law protects individuals who defend themselves in their home or vehicle and removes the duty of retreat, thus allowing people to shoot attackers or potential threats on the spot. The present policy brief will outline the problems related to this legislature and propose recommendations for resolving them.
There are three key issues associated with the Stand Your Ground law in Florida. First of all, it has led to a significant increase in homicides across all demographic groups. Humphreys, Gasparrini, and Wiebe (2016) found that before the law was introduced, the mean monthly homicide rate decreased by 0.1% every month. However, since the enactment of the Stand Your Ground law, there was an increase of 24.7% in monthly homicide rates, adding about 20 homicides per month to the state’s police records (Humphreys et al., 2016). While self-defense laws in many other states also allow an individual to protect their life or property, Florida legislation enables persons to use deadly force, thus causing an increase in homicides.
Another significant problem is that the law contributes to racial inequalities in the society. According to Sherrilyn Ifill (2013), many white people are biased towards viewing Latino or black people as potential threats: “indeed, the vast majority of Americans perceive the same behavior as more threatening when performed by an African American than by a white person” (p. 3). Therefore, the law can be used to promote and justify violence against innocent people who are mistakenly perceived to be dangerous due to their skin color.
Ifill (2013) refers to the case of Trayvon Martin, a young black male who was shot to death by George Zimmerman out of prejudice. These cases are rather common in Florida, and the use of deadly force against racial minorities could escalate further if the laws remain unchanged.
Lastly, there are great inconsistencies in the way that the Stand Your Ground law is applied in courts to justify the use of force. As shown by McCormick (2015), despite the removal of the duty to retreat, the presence of a retreat opportunity affected the success of SYG defense. Moreover, although the law clearly states that the Stand Your Ground defense does not normally apply to cases where the claimant was the initiator of violence, 44.3% of SYG cases where claimants were initiators were successful (McCormick, 2015).
By protecting individuals from prosecution, the law indirectly encourages them to use force. In fact, 46% of SYG cases where the claimant pursued the alleged assailant were successful (McCormick, 2015). The inconsistencies in the way that the law is applied in courts further increase its influence on violence rates.
Repealing the Stand Your Ground law in Florida is the most obvious possible solution. For instance, in North Carolina, the Stand Your Ground law was recently repealed by the Gun Safety act. It might also be considered as the most effective, as reinstalling the duty to retreat would result in a decrease in homicides, reduce violence based on racial bias, and remove inconsistencies related to the application of the law in courts.
An alternative solution is to change the law by targeting specific inconsistencies that prevent its practical use in courts. For instance, preventing claimants who initiated violence or who chased the alleged assailant beyond the borders of their property from using the SYG defense would help to avoid unnecessary use of force (McCormick, 2015). This alternative would also assist in reducing violence against innocent black or Latino residents. Finally, another possible solution is to improve the process of applying SYG defense in cases where the assailant is a member of a discriminated population (e.g., black or Latino). In such cases, the claimant would have to prove that they did not act out of racial bias and that the behavior of the alleged assailant was indeed threatening.
The recommended option is to amend the Stand Your Ground law in Florida to reduce inconsistencies in the court process. The rationale for this solution is based on the study by McCormick (2015), who details the inconsistencies in the application of the law. The amended law would have to specify that the claimant should not be the initiator of violence and that they should not chase the alleged assailant beyond the close vicinity of their property.
Also, the law would have to specify the behaviors that are considered threatening to avoid unjustified violence based on racial discrimination. The one significant implication of the recommended policy is the increased complexity of the court process. Nevertheless, amending the law following the recommendation would provide numerous benefits, including a decreased rate of homicides, fewer inconsistencies in its application, and the reduction in race-based violence throughout the state.
Overall, the Stand Your Ground law in Florida has resulted in some problems that affect the well-being of residents. It is critical to choose and implement an appropriate solution to the problem in order to reduce unjustified violence and the rate of homicides in the state. The recommended change would help to address all of the problems highlighted by researchers and legislators, thus offering an optimal solution to the issue.
Humphreys, D. K., Gasparrini, A., & Wiebe, D. J. (2016). Assessing the impact of Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law on patterns of homicide: An interrupted time series study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 70(1), A44-A58.
Ifill, S. (2013). Testimony of Sherrilyn Ifill. Web.
McCormick, A. E. Jr. (2015). Florida’s Stand Your Ground law: Enforcement inconsistencies and inherent ambiguities. The Journal of Public and Professional Sociology, 7(1), 1-14.
National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). (2018). Self defense and “stand your ground”. Web.