STAND YOUR GROUND

THE PROBLEM

Stand-Your-Ground laws raise serious concerns about the protection of the most fundamental human rights: the right to live and the right not to be subjected to discrimination on any grounds.

Under such laws in Florida, Georgia and other states, a private citizen is allowed to use deadly force against a perceived imminent threat of death or bodily harm in any place where he or she has a right to be, without an obligation to retreat.

FACTS & FIGURES:

  • Texas A&M University found in 2012 that homicide rates increase by 7-9 percent in 23 states with stand-your-ground laws as compared to states without such laws, leading to anywhere from 500 to 700 more homicides every year. A 2012 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research also found an increase in firearms-related homicides in states which had introduced similar bills.
  • The American Medical Association found that there was a 24.4% increase in homicides overall and a 32% increase in firearm-related homicides specifically after Stand Your Ground was enacted in Florida.
  • A 2017 follow up study by the same researchers found a 75% increase in justified homicides (killings that were successfully able to use the Stand Your Ground defense) in Florida during the same time periods.
  • According to a study of criminal justice data from 23 states with Stand Your Ground laws, white homicide defendants with Black victims were more likely to have their homicides ruled justified than Black defendants whose victims were white.
  • Data indicates that an African American asserting a Stand Your Ground defense where a white person is killed has double the chances of being convicted as opposed to if the victim was Black.
  • The American Bar Association’s 2014 National Task Force found that the application of Stand Your Ground laws is “unpredictable, uneven, and results in racial disparities.” The Task Force found evidence that self-defense related homicides, particularly interracial homicides, spiked in the 33 states that had Stand Your Ground laws at the time.

THE HUMAN RIGHTS FRAMEWORK

“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

It is a fundamental rule of international human rights law that no one may be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. In general, the use of lethal force is lawful only if, at the time of its use, it is “strictly unavoidable” in order to meet an “imminent threat of death” in self-defense or defense of others. The definition of ‘imminence’ in international law is highly limited – an offensive act already in motion.

While these standards were developed for law enforcement officials, Amnesty International believes that they provide useful guidance for the state in determining what force is acceptable from private individuals who are in effect taking the law into their own hands.

Everyone has the right to self-defense, but mounting evidence suggests that stand-your-ground laws may encourage the use of deadly force in situations where this is not warranted, for example where such force is not used as a last resort. The ultimate result of this could be more rather than less violence.

“The Committee is concerned at…the proliferation of ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws, which…have a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on members of racial and ethnic minorities.”

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the U.S. government to protect the right to life and to reduce gun violence by reviewing Stand Your Ground laws to remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to the principles of necessity and proportionality.

Moreover, the American Bar Association’s 2014 National Task Force found that the application of Stand Your Ground laws is “unpredictable, uneven, and results in racial disparities.” The Task Force found evidence that self-defense related homicides, particularly interracial homicides, spiked in the 33 states that had Stand Your Ground laws at the time.

The right to be free from discrimination is a universally recognized human right. It is enshrined in multiple human rights instruments which together ensure the individual’s right to be free from discrimination on the basis of: sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, social background and association with a national minority, age, economic position, marital, birth or any other kind of status.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S RECOMMENDATION:

  • State legislatures should repeal stand-your-ground laws on the basis that these laws may violate the right to life and the right to be free from discrimination and run afoul of international standards on the use of lethal force.
  • The Attorney General should lead a comprehensive nationwide study, examining all states where stand-your-ground laws are in place to determine the following: whether the laws have led to an increase in gun homicides; whether the laws and the broadening of the concept of self-defense violate the right to life; and whether they violate the right to be free from discrimination. The Department of Justice should publicly disclose the findings of its study and ensure that any recommendations made are with a view to bringing current legislation into compliance with international human rights law and standards.

32%

Increase in gun homicides after FL enacts Stand Your Ground

7 - 9%

Increase in homicide rate in 23 states with Stand Your Ground laws, compared to those without

2X

Data indicates that a Black person using a Stand Your Ground defense when a white person is killed has double the chances of being convicted, as opposed to when the defendant is white and victim is Black

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