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Racial bias and 'stand your ground' laws: what the data show

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To some, such findings are a consequence of the pandemic of violence plaguing elements of the black community. But to others, they suggest that stand-your-ground laws have allowed perceptions of the black community – sometimes accurate, sometimes not – to become a legal justification for using deadly force.

Stand-your-ground laws have begun to change the calculus of self-defense in the United States. The idea behind them is to "expand the legal justification for the use of lethal force in self-defense, thereby lowering the expected cost of using lethal force and increasing the expected cost of committing violent crime," say researchers Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra in a Texas A&M study.

Statistics included in the study bore that out, showing that justifiable homicides rose by 8 percent in stand-your-ground states, amounting to some 600 additional killings.

The laws have spread quickly. Since Florida passed the first stand-your-ground law in 2005, at least 30 other states have followed suit, either though legislative action or court decisions.

This comes at a time when concealed-carry gun laws are being expanded, meaning the success or failure of stand-your-ground laws will depend on "whether [people believe] guns produce a net social benefit or not," says Brannon Denning, a law professor at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., and author of "Gun Control and Gun Rights: A Reader and Guide."

Critics say the laws upset a basic social order by, in essence, deputizing citizens. Not only does that raise the risk of minor disputes and misunderstandings becoming deadly incidents, but it also provides some legal cover for Americans to take deadly action based on their own subjective, and possibly racially tinged, views.

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