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'Stand your ground' laws: Do they put teens in greater danger?

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Especially in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting in February, castle doctrine and stand your ground laws are under growing scrutiny. Though they vary by state, the laws are founded on the idea that lawful citizens have no "duty to retreat" from danger in and around their dwelling or even in public. Dozens of states have passed such laws in the past 10 years.

But critics say the laws could significantly raise the stakes for teenagers engaging in stupid pranks and petty crime.

These new laws "are going to disproportionately result in more consequences to teenagers that are beyond the scope of what the kids were really doing," says Kathleen Stilling, a former Wisconsin circuit judge and currently a lawyer in Brookfield, Wis. The worry, she adds, is that teenagers doing things "that are not capital offenses end up facing deadly consequences."

Those dynamics were highlighted by the first test of Wisconsin's castle doctrine law in April, when a teenager fleeing a party busted by police in Slinger, Wis., hid on an enclosed back porch. The startled homeowner shot the "intruder." Prosecutors decided not to press charges against the homeowner.

Though there are no data on the impact of stand your ground laws on teenagers, a Texas A&M University study this summer found that homicide rates had risen by an average of 7 to 9 percent in states that enacted such laws. The causes were not clear, but the authors of the study suggested that "perhaps the most obvious form of escalation – and one most commonly cited by critics of castle doctrine law – is that conflicts or crimes that might not have otherwise turned deadly may now do so."

In Florida, at least, support for stand your ground remains strong. A Quinnipiac poll found that 56 percent of respondents in the state said the law makes society safer. Moreover, a Florida task force convened to look at the law in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting said last week that the law may need minor tweaks but is, on the whole, sound.

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