Freedomnomics

Article published Wednesday, July 31, 2013, at Fox News.

What liberal media won't tell you -- blacks benefit most from Stand Your Ground laws

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Stand Your Ground laws have become a racial issue in the aftermath of the not guilty . President Obama and Attorney General Holder have weighed in, linking race and these laws.

On ABC News' "This Week," radio talk show host Travis Smiley declared what many think: "It appears to me, and I think many other persons in this country that you can in fact stand your ground unless you are a black man."

And they seem to have some evidence of this, now that the Tampa Bay Times has reviewed Florida's court cases to find “defendants claiming ‘stand your ground’ are more likely to prevail if the victim is black.”

In the wake of the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial musician Stevie Wonder's boycott of Florida until law is "abolished" has been joined over the last few days by Harry Belafonte and Chaka Khan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission has launched its own investigation on Stand Your Ground laws and the Senate Judiciary committee recently announced its plan to hold hearings in September.

But the debate has everything backwards over who benefits from the law. 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. It makes it easier for them to protect themselves when the police can't be there fast enough. Rules that make self-defense more difficult would impact blacks the most.

Blacks may make up just 16.6 percent of Florida's population, but they account for over 31 percent of the state's defendants invoking a Stand Your Ground defense. Black defendants who invoke this statute to justify their actions are acquitted 8 percent more frequently than whites who use that same defense.

Prior to "Stand Your Ground," citizens had to retreat as far as possible and then announce to the criminal that they were going to shoot. The "Stand Your Ground" law drops the original requirement to retreat. But lethal force is still only justified when a reasonable person would believe that an attacker intends to inflict serious bodily harm or death. The law doesn't protect anyone who provokes a confrontation.

Apparently forgotten are the reasons that "Stand Your Ground" laws exist. Delays in letting people defend themselves sometimes prevented people from doing so. Trying to define an "appropriate retreat" adds confusion. Prosecutors have sometimes abusively claimed that people who defended themselves could have retreated even farther.

Despite the ruckus over the law after the George Zimmerman acquittal, his defense team never raised the "Stand Your Ground" law. Obviously, if Zimmerman was on his back and Trayvon Martin was holding him down (as the forensic and eyewitness evidence indicates), Zimmerman had no option to retreat. So the law was completely irrelevant.

Those who claim racism as an element of Stand Your Ground laws point to data compiled by the Tampa Bay Tribune. The newspaper examined 112 cases where people charged with murder relied on Florida's Stand Your Ground law, starting with the first cases filed in 2006 up until a week ago. Their "shocking" finding: 71 percent of those who killed an African-American man or woman faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white person.

Yet, explosive claims of racism require more proof than that.

For example, just because two people are charged with murder doesn't mean the two cases are identical.

Using the Tribune data, blacks killed in these confrontations were 13 percentage points more likely to be armed than the whites who were killed, thus making it more plausible that their killers reasonably believed that they had little choice but to kill their attacker. By a 43 to 16 percent margin, the black men and women who were killed were also more often committing a crime.

Further, there were also more cases with a witness around when a black was killed (69 to 62 percent). Besides information on the victim's and defendant's race and gender, the Tampa Bay Tribune collected a lot of other useful information on the cases: they looked at whether there were witnesses, whether the victim initiated the confrontation, whether the victim was armed, whether the defendant was on his own property when the shooting occurred, whether there was physical evidence, whether the defendant pursued the victim, and the type of case (was it a drug deal gone bad, home invasion, etc.).

Surprisingly, the Tribune never examined if the data they collected might explain the different conviction rates.

Doing so actually reverses their claim. Everything else equal, in cases with only one person killed, killing a black person, rather than a white person, increases the defendant's odds of being convicted, though the result is not statistically significant. If you also include multiple murder cases, killing a black person increases the chances of conviction even more.

These regressions also show that white defendants are more likely to be convicted than black defendants, and both effects are significantly greater than for Hispanics.

Whether the person killed initiated the confrontation and having an eyewitness were the most important factors in determining whether there was a conviction.

We've heard it over and over: Stand Your Ground gave Zimmerman the confidence to leave his car, and if only Zimmerman had stayed in his car, this tragedy would have been prevented.

Put aside that Zimmerman got out of his car because the operator asked where Martin was. Do we really want to live in a country where poor people in high crime urban areas hunker down, afraid to leave their homes?

The third edition of the book, "More Guns, Less Crime," written by one of the authors here, is the first published peer-reviewed study examining laws that don't require victims retreat as far a possible and I found that there were benefits in terms of lower crime rates.

Democrats make much of how they care about poor people. Yet, the taxes and fees they impose on gun ownership by law-abiding citizens say otherwise.

In Democratically-controlled Washington, D.C., it costs $534 to register and license a handgun.

With New York's new background checks to buy ammunition, a fee averaging $85 is tacked on to each purchase of bullets.

This spring when Republicans in Colorado offered an amendment to exempt those below the poverty level from having to pay the new fee to obtain a gun, it was Democrats who voted in lockstep to defeat it.

Democrats want poor minorities votes, but they just don’t want them to be able to defend themselves.

Sherwin Lott is a junior at Johns Hopkins University.

John R. Lott Jr. is a FOXNews.com contributor. An economist and former chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission, he is also a leading expert on guns. He is the author of several books, including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge? (Regnery Publishing 2013).". Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.

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