‘Stand your ground’ laws in states like Florida have drawn scrutiny for the perceived racial disparity with which they’re used in the criminal justice system. A prominent economist and gun policy expert made an effort to rebut that narrative before a Senate panel Tuesday, saying that in fact blacks stand the most to gain from these self-defense statutes.
Testifying at a high-profile Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing that included the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, John R. Lott, Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, contended that it appears “all people benefit” from stand your ground laws when taking data into account. And contrary to arguments that the laws have a discriminatory effect, they benefit black Americans in particular, Lott said.
“Poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas are not only the most likely victims of crime, they are also the ones who benefit the most from stand your ground laws,” Lott provided in his testimony. “The laws make it easier for them to protect themselves when the police can’t be there fast enough. Therefore, rules that make self-defense more difficult disproportionately impact blacks.”
As evidence, Lott took figures from the Tampa Bay Times that frequently have been used to criticize the effects of stand your ground laws and put them into broader context.
“In Florida, for example, in contrast to the [Trayvon] Martin and [Jordan] Davis cases, there are 15 cases where black men, who were being threatened, defended themselves and successfully relied on this law in their defense, with their charges either being dropped or they were acquitted,” according to Lott’s testimony. He also crunched data to find that 69 percent of blacks in Florida who raised a stand your ground defense in court were not convicted, compared to just 62 percent of whites.
Still, stand your ground opponents were unconvinced during the hearing. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the subcommittee’s chairman, leaned on separate data from the Urban Institute alleging the policy’s bias — data that Lott has criticized on technical grounds — in attacking stand your ground laws. Durbin said that the statutes have the opposite effect of deterring violent situations or functioning as instruments of legitimate self-defense.
“This law is an invitation for confrontation,” Durbin said.
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, and Lucia McBath, the mother of another teenager, Jordan Davis, who was fatally shot outside a gas station in a separate circumstance, agreed with Durbin’s assessment at the hearing. Regardless of the non-role that stand your ground played in the trial of George Zimmerman, Fulton said that “this law does not work” in light of his acquittal. McBath made an emotional plea to the committee to resolve the larger issue, saying that “even the Wild West had more stringent laws governing the taking of life than we have now.”
Harvard law professor Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., who also testified against stand your ground before the panel Tuesday, put his argument in pointed terms.
“[The law] tells Floridians that they can incorrectly profile young black children, kill them, and be protected by stand your ground laws,” Sullivan said.
Lott disagrees with the premise of such characterizations.
“Racism shouldn’t be tolerated. Yet, precisely because of its seriousness, false accusations of racism are also unacceptable,” Lott provided in his testimony. “Those making explosive claims of racism should carefully back up their claims.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the ranking member of the panel, concurred.
“This is not about inflaming racial tensions,” Cruz said. “This is about the right of everyone to protect themselves and protect their families.”
In that vein, Republicans wondered Tuesday why Senate Democrats were focused on disparaging stand your ground laws while failed economic policies have been such culprits in harming black families.
“While Senate Democrats mobilize to discuss ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws, I hope they also plan to rally around black youth facing dwindling opportunities and job prospects across the country,” Orlando Watson, Republican National Committee Communications Director for Black Media, said in a statement. “With more than 10 million black Americans living below poverty level, why aren’t Senate Democrats also holding hearings on the impact their disastrous policies have had on the black community?”