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Justifiable Homicide

Keith Ellison on 9-21-06, taken by user.

Keith Ellison on 9-21-06, taken by user. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Trayvon Martin shooting has put ‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation at the center of the national second-amendment/self-defense debate. Among others, Keith Ellison has raised the issue of these laws at the national level:

Democrats backed off of their effort Tuesday to offer a “Trayvon amendment” to pressure states to drop their stand-your-ground laws after learning it was likely to be ruled out of order under the evening’s rules for debate on the House floor.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, said he will still try to force a debate at a more “appropriate” time in the future, saying action is demanded by the case of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who police said was shot dead in a street encounter with a neighborhood watch volunteer.

The Ellison amendment would have docked federal criminal justice grants to states that have stand-your-ground laws, which allow residents to use deadly force to respond to an attack without first having to retreat.

Ellison et al. cite the increase in ‘justifiable homicides’ in recent years as a reason to re-evaluate these laws.

So, I looked up the numbers, and they’re right. Justifiable homicides are up:

But look closely at the graph. If Justifiable homicides are up because of ‘stand your ground’ (SYG) laws, we should see independence between private citizens and police, i.e. there should be a lack of correlation between the two groups of people. Police are held to a different standard than private citizens; they are expected to approach dangerous situations, and don’t have the option of retreat or avoidance. Thus police are given more leeway (and rightfully so).

Wait! Those are old numbers!

Here are some more recent numbers from Florida:

Again, check out the high correlation between police and citizens.

So why are police and private citizen numbers so closely correlated? The two lines are nearly identical in shape. In theory, there should be an increase in justifiable homicides among private citizens with no corresponding increase in police shootings. But that isn’t the case.

It is my opinion that other factors are at work. Either demographics are shifting, crime rates vary (maybe copper thievery comes into vogue, reducing the number of violent encounters) or something else is going on. A state by state study looking at the rates of justifiable homicide before and after SYG laws would give us a clearer answer. Perhaps a small relationship can be found. Even if that happens, it is still important to remember justifiable homicides are deemed such for normally good reasons. A ‘justifiable homicide’ is when an attempted homicide goes bad for the bad guy. Overrall, violent crime is down across the country. Increased guns and carry permit holders might be part of the reason. We should not surrender the civil right to self-defense because of one very sad incident, as painful as it might be for those involved.

(Here’s another interesting post on the subject. The main takeway being how small the change has been over the past decade and how details are lost in the reporting.)


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