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'Stand Your Ground' laws are linked to an increase in U.S. homicides, study says


Tomorrow marks 10 years since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. The case surrounding his death centered around the controversial Stand Your Ground law, and new research says that law may have led to hundreds more homicides in the country. Here's NPR's Cheryl Corley.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Florida passed the first Stand Your Ground law in 2005. Several states followed suit. But it wasn't until 2012, after Trayvon Martin's death, that the law spurred a national hotbed of debate. That's when George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, followed the 17-year-old as he was walking from a store to his father's house. There was a confrontation. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder. He said he feared for his life when he shot and killed Martin and claimed it was self-defense. That case drew widespread outrage. Jonathan Simon teaches law at UC Berkeley. He says, generally, Stand Your Ground laws remove any duty to retreat first if a person feels threatened. He says their passage was a big cultural shift.

JONATHAN SIMON: Saying we approve of lethal violence. We think that, you know, you need to be more ready to use it on the spot.

CORLEY: Michelle Degli Esposti, an Oxford University researcher, began tracking the impact of the Florida law early on. She's a co-author of a study published this week in the medical journal JAMA Network Open. It links Stand Your Ground legislation to an increase in homicides in the country.

MICHELLE DEGLI ESPOSTI: These laws are leading to unnecessary loss of lives, to around 700 extra homicides in the U.S. each year.

CORLEY: The study specifically looks at 23 states that enacted Stand Your Ground laws by 2016. Increases in homicides varied by geographic regions.

DEGLI ESPOSTI: So we saw bigger effects in the Southeast - so this is Florida, Alabama, Louisiana. And they went into double figures - so 20 to 30% increases.

CORLEY: Ohio is one of the latest states to pass the legislation. Dean Rieck, executive director of Buckeye Firearms Association, says the Ohio provision simply clarifies what a person who fears for their life can do without worrying about the law.

DEAN RIECK: We're not trying to empower criminals, and we're not trying to, you know, increase homicides or encourage vigilantism or anything like that.

CORLEY: Efforts to repeal Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and other states have failed so far.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

United States & World Morning Edition
Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.