Texas A&M Study Says Castle-Doctrine Laws Increase Homicides, Don't Deter Crime

Categories: Crime

Monty_Python_and_Holy_Grail_Doune_Castle.jpg
The Aggie study did not use this photo. Yeah, we thought it was weird, too.
In news sure to inspire furious bickering inside your television, a Texas A&M study has found that the castle doctrine -- on which Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law is based -- does not deter crime and, in fact, increases murder rates.

The killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in late February launched thousands of arguments about castle doctrine laws, which allow a person to use lethal force against an intruder in certain situations, provided they have a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm. Lawmakers in several states, including Texas, have debated revising their own self-defense laws.

"We found a 7 to 9 percent increase in homicides," says one of the study's authors, associate economics professor Mark Hoekstra. "That's significant. That's robust.

"We did comparisons in a bunch of different ways," he goes on. "We compared states that adopt [the law] to states that don't adopt. It doesn't matter if you control for things like policing or levels of incarceration. You can compare to only other states in the same region. It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, castle doctrine increased homicides by 7 to 9 percent."

Hoekstra and his co-author, grad student Chen Cheng, looked at 23 states where castle doctrine laws exist and found slight evidence that castle doctrine increases justifiable homicides committed by civilians by anywhere from 17 to 50 percent. That sounds like a lot. But the reality is that justifiable homicide is narrowly defined and exceedingly rare: according to the FBI, a killing can only be classified that way when someone kills another person who's committing a felony. Fewer than 200 deaths are classified that way each year.

Instead, the study found that castle doctrine increases total homicides, including murder and non-negligent homicide, by 7 to 9 percent, making a much larger 500 to 700 additional deaths per year. Hoekstra says they see three distinct possibilities that might account for the increase.

"One theory is that these are in some sense legitimate self-defense killings that just don't meet the strict definition of justifiable homicide," he says. "On the other hand, it could be that the increase in homicide is due to criminals escalating," say by carrying and using weapons more. "So one possible response to castle doctrine is for criminals to carry and use guns more frequently, for example. We could be picking up the effect of that. The third possibly is that otherwise non-lethal conflicts turn deadly because of castle doctrine. It's really, really difficult to distinguish between those three possibilities."

The study says that self-defense alone probably doesn't explain the numbers, though.

"We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent," they write." "This is important because murder excludes non-negligent manslaughter classifications that one might think are used more frequently in self-defense cases. But regardless of how one interprets increases from various classifications, it is clear that the primary effect of strengthening self-defense law is to increase homicide."

Any hope that criminals in castle doctrine states might be deterred from robbing you by the knowledge that you could be packing heat is also incorrect, he says.

"This is true not just of criminals, but of the general public: when it come to things that involve probabilistic thinking, people have a pretty hard time with it. 'What's the increase in the possibility that someone will defend themselves with lethal force against me?' It's tough to answer that in a super rigorous way. The idea that a criminal is going to do a really great job of answering that, and if they'd be able to make these calculations -- You're asking a lot of anybody to make that calculation."

The homicide increase also presents another issue for the researchers. How do you determine who died in a castle doctrine situation: the alleged criminal or the person allegedly defending themselves? The FBI data Hoekstra and Cheng studied doesn't show that kind of detail, and Hoekstra says it's crucial in figuring out what's driving the homicide increase. The answer, he says, is another study.

"The best idea I've come up with is to try to figure out if the people getting killed have criminal backgrounds," he says. "If you see an increase in people getting killed without criminal backgrounds then at least part of what it suggests is escalation." But, he concedes, "It's going to be difficult. I don't know how optimistic I am."


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13 comments
Crask
Crask

That's because criminals don't generally expect anyone to be "packing" because they also grew up in this nation where most have been taught to be too scared of firearms to ever think of owning them.

 

And you could be right, maybe it's that the criminals are taking advantage of the law to carry their own firearms that they intend on using.

 

But you see there's a distinct difference between wisdom and today's world. In today's world, armed criminals are confidant that their victims are not armed with anything more than mace. So, laws that help common citizens to better defend themselves aren't necessarily going to do anything at all to deter crime. The only way criminals will actually be wary has already been proven throughout history and today. It's simple. When was the last time you heard of a armed criminal attacking a police officer on duty., or even a security guard. Sure such things happen with kids and gangs in the inner city, but criminals don't typically attack those they know to be armed. And that's the key point here. Criminals are confident that, regardless of the law, most people are not going to be armed, and even if they are, gun laws are so stringent, they likely won't have their guns on their person anyway.

 

Simple common sense. Put yourself in their shoes.. Pretend you actually want to hurt someone, and you tell me if you could with a gun without fear of likely getting shot at yourself. Uhhh duhhh, of course, if you had a gun.

 

This is on reason why some gun rights activists have called for the curiculum of public schools to teach young adults in the proper use of firearms. This way more people will be confident that they can own one safely, more households will have them, and in time, criminals will grow to learn that.

 

Cite this study or that study all you want, but reality has always demonstrated that those who are expected to be armed are generally safer than those who are not. From China to Switzerland, this is always proven true. I say China knowing that China has a no-gun policy and a very low violent crime rate because they are already at the worst-case scenario. It's not simple criminals that the Chinese are suffering, their entire government has taken advantage of them, and has usurped their individual rights, utterly demolished their liberties, and now their very lives are in the hands of the elite who rule.

 

China is often used as an example by the gun prohibitionists of the successes of prohibiting firearms altogether, but the very large elephant they completely side-step is the fact that their very government who is even more gun prohibitionist than the U.S. gun prohibitionists uses that lack of defense to commit horrific acts against their citizens.

Home Owner
Home Owner

Bull.  The guy was drunk and pounding on and kicking the door in trying to get into the wrong house. Keep to the facts.  He was drunk and breaking into the wrong house. Who was that musician down in the M Streets area who did the same thing?  He was messed up because of some medicine (most likely mixed with illegal drugs if I recall) and was also kicking in the wrong door of a house when he was shot and killed. http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2007/09/mistaken_for_an_intruder_sorta.php  http://crimeblog.dallasnews.com/2012/06/haltom-city-man-shoots-intruder-during-apparent-robbery.html/  Here's where a gang of young teens were kicking in doors and rburglarizing homes.  OOPS, the kid got shot. Home owner saved us all a bunch of future costs of trials and confinement because if he was doing this at a young age, what would be next? Better story on just what those kids were doing while attempting to bust into the man's house.  http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2012/04/09/dallas-home-invasion-ends-with-deadly-shooting/  Good people work hard to buy homes and property and too often the bad guys will kick in the door, shoot you if they can and steal everything of value. There is a cost to stupid behaviour so if someone is so drunk they can't tell their own door from someone else's door?  What other crap might they do?  How many that wasted have driven home putting everyone else on the road in peril and in danger of being killed? People need to take responsibility for their actions and that includes not blaming someone else if you are so drugged out or drunk OR just looking to steal. Stupidity IS a capital offence.  

Mickister
Mickister

Sales of handguns benefit the economy.  Private ownership of handguns does not.  A privately owned handgun is not a serious source of day-to-day capital. An automobile is.

Timetomoveon
Timetomoveon

" Firearm deaths -- roughly 11,000 a year in America.  Privately owned handguns don't benefit the economy, and firearm-related deaths could be dramatically reduced by severely limiting private ownership of handguns.  In this case we're talking about a cost with almost no benefit, much different from automobiles." Wait. Millions of handgun sales a year, millions(billions?) of ammunition purchased every year, range fees and memberships, competition(shooting is an olympic sport if you didn't know). None of those things benefit the economy? Manufacturing jobs, retail jobs, gun smith jobs, range officer jobs, training jobs and all the money that is spent on "privately owned handguns". No benefit to the economy?

Mickister
Mickister

 Let's look at the three things you mentioned. Automobile deaths -- about 45,000 a year in America.  Automobiles provide a huge economic benefit in terms of efficient transportation.  The economy could not function without automobiles.  It can function without privately owned handguns.  Automobile deaths can be lowered by lowering speed limits, improving car safety, and more effectively enforcing traffic laws.  Automobile fatalities could also be reduced by decreasing the legal drinking age and increasing the deterrent penalty for drunk driving. Firearm deaths -- roughly 11,000 a year in America.  Privately owned handguns don't benefit the economy, and firearm-related deaths could be dramatically reduced by severely limiting private ownership of handguns.  In this case we're talking about a cost with almost no benefit, much different from automobiles.  Drowning deaths -- roughly 3,000 a year in America.  That's about 9 or 10 (accidental) drowning deaths a day.  A large number of those deaths are children.  There is a good argument there for increased parental awareness and better lifeguard training.  That said, people dying one way (drowning) doesn't justify allowing people to die another way (shooting).  Nor does dying during a voluntary activity compare to dying during a victimizing activity.  And just so you know, you are more likely to survive a gunpoint encounter without a firearm (without the stern look and harsh words) than you are to survive it if you do have a firearm. 

Rt76209
Rt76209

Owning and operating an automobile greatly increases your chances of dying in an auto related accident-should we outlaw cars.  They kill and injure people far more frequently than firearms.  Having a pool on your property with children under 3 greatly increases the chances that your child will drown, also a significant cause of death for young children.  So, no pools?  Given the number of guns in private hands and the number of gun related death and injuries, I'll take my chances of owning a gun for defense as opposed to a stern look and harsh words.  

Rt76209
Rt76209

They also don't mention instances where the  presentation of a weapon, fired or un-fired by the homeowner, where there was no injury but the crime was preempted or interupted.  Be interesting to see those numbers thrown in as well since that would also reflect on the effectiveness of the law.

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

I did not claim that firearms had anything to do with the reduction. Though firearm sales have been up that same number of years. This is a correlation and may not be causation. The actual causes increases and decreases in crime are complex.

Observist
Observist

I see the dual concepts of "before and after" and "test and control" are confusing to you.  If the murder rate in Chicago was twice as high before gun control, then gun control laws were put in place and the murder rate fell to half of what it was before, it would show the gun control laws may have been effective.  Then you would need to compare the change in murder rates to that in other cities, because maybe the murder rates changed without a change to gun control laws.  See? And as I mentioned in another post below, implementing a small pocket of gun control in surrounding nation of free access to guns is mostly futile.  Retro-actively implementing gun control in a nation already awash in guns is also mostly futile.  But other Western countries with strict gun control laws have dramatically lower murder rates, even with comparable violent crime rates.  To simplify: Fewer guns = less murder Gun control in Chicago fewer guns

yep
yep

 And I guess I am stupid also, I will say it for you. I can't type or spell so I apologize now.

Stupid People
Stupid People

People are stupid, that's is why none criminals die from 'PEOPLE" not guns. GUNS DON"T KILL they don't think, they don't eat, and they sure as hell don't fire them selves. This all comes down to stupid people who shouldn't have a gun. Saying that my state has some if not the strictest gun laws there are. No "Stand your ground" or "Castle" law, or lack there of is not going to stop me from using my weapon to shoot and yes KILL someone if they come into my home. Whether it's a mistaken home, like that teenager, or for bad intent. If you come in my home and endanger my family you will be shot, no if's and's or but's about it. 

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