A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows Florida’s gun homicide rates have increased dramatically under Stand Your Ground. In light of the new findings, WFSU checks in with critics and supporters of the controversial legislation.
When Florida lawmakers first introduced the Stand Your Ground bill in 2005, it earned widespread and bipartisan support. In March of that year, the measure sailed through the Senate unanimously. Before taking up the bill, lawmakers had spent hours passionately debating the Terri Schiavo case. By comparison, the home protection bill, as it was then known, was utterly uncontroversial. Republican Durell Peaden of Crestview was the Senate sponsor.
“Basically it says if there is fear of bodily harm or death, that those individuals that are in your castle, you have a right to shoot those individuals because of that fear. This goes back a thousand years when folks thought that their home was their castle and they should use any force necessary to protect them,” Peaden said.
In the House it was a different story. There was bipartisan support, but some resistance. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler was a Representative back then, and he entered his objections into the official record.
“Somebody could openly commit a criminal act, and by asserting this stand your ground defense, be free. And my concern was you can’t create laws that protect criminals,” Seiler said.
Seiler says the whole point of government is to make people’s lives better. And even in 2005, he argued Stand Your Ground doesn’t do that.
“It’s one of those things in life where you’re hoping you were wrong, because being right means that somebody was going to lose their life, or be severely injured or harmed,” Seiler said.
New findings published in a top-tier, peer-reviewed journal seem to confirm Seiler’s worries. An international team of researchers led the study, which shows Floridians’ odds of getting killed are much higher since the roll-out of Stand Your Ground. University of Pennsylvania Professor Douglas Wiebe co-authored the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“And what we found was in fact a very large, abrupt and sustained spike in homicide that coincided with the timing of the onset of the law,” Wiebe said.
According to the results, the state’s homicide rates are up 24%, and gun homicides are up more than 31%. The study uses data from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mortality database, which consists of county-level numbers provided by the states.
“What is likely is happening is that people were aware that the law allowed them to interact differently. And in a community where carrying firearms is quite prevalent, people may have started interpreting interactions differently. And in fact, shooting, using firearms, in instances when they otherwise wouldn’t have,” Wiebe said.
Senator Dennis Baxley of Lady Lake sponsored Stand Your Ground in the House back in 2005. He is still one of the strongest proponents of the measure, and he roundly rejects the scientific study.
“Those data points are contaminated by the fact that a large number of those homicides are justified homicides,” Baxley said.
And in fact, that’s just what the law allows, granting citizens a broader right to kill, if they perceive a threat. But Baxley insists a spike in gun deaths is not a medical issue.
“Oh I would question the results and the motive for that study. That’s not medicine. I don’t know what they’re doing,” Baxley said.
But Wiebe points back to the data, saying when substantially more Floridians are dying, it is a public health problem. And he hopes the numbers will shock state lawmakers into action.
“There is a preponderance of evidence that suggests it’s the law that led to this. So in fact we have enough evidence to act on it. For example, a logical next step would be to repeal this law, and reverse it,” Wiebe said.
But Republican lawmakers are showing no signs of slowing down. Senator Rob Bradley of Orange Park has already filed a bill to strengthen Stand Your Ground in the upcoming legislative session.