Durbin, Cummings, and Bicameral Group of Members Request DOJ Collect More Data on "Stand Your Ground" Laws
Washington, DC – Today, Senator Dick Durbin, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, along with Senator Mazie Hirono and Reps. John Conyers, Jr., Bobby Scott, Marcia Fudge, and Luis Gutiérrez, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Department of Justice collect additional information on “stand your ground” laws to fully document their disparate racial impacts in communities across the country.
“More than half of all Americans live in states with ‘stand your ground’ laws on the books,” Durbin said. “We learned in a recent hearing I chaired that these laws have led to increased violence and wider racial disparities, but the federal government does not collect adequate data on these laws’ impact. That must change.”
“The acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer and the proliferation of stand your ground laws across our nation have added fuel to the flames of racial profiling and discrimination,” said Cummings. “Getting states to collect and examine data regarding the impact of stand your ground laws in our communities will provide local leaders and advocates with the tools necessary to address the disparate and deadly outcomes that can arise from the expansion of these laws.”
“As the recent tragic shooting in Wayne County, Michigan demonstrated, the increasing prevalence of ‘stand your ground’ laws are having a negative impact on public safety,” said Conyers. “While some studies exist demonstrating how ‘stand your ground’ laws have a disproportionate impact on minority communities, it is important for the Department of Justice to collect the information necessary for us to better understand the impact of ‘stand your ground’ laws on the escalation of conflicts and the tragic use of firearms. This is an important opportunity for the Department and the FBI to work with the states to shed more light on this threat to public safety.”
“Studies show that ‘stand your ground’ laws contribute to increases in homicides and exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” said Scott. “The Department of Justice, however, has no comprehensive, accurate way of monitoring the impact of these laws on public safety and civil rights. The steps we call for today will help the DOJ evaluate the impact of these laws.”
“The use of ‘stand your ground’ laws by civilians and the application of the law by courts too often rely on decisions made by those with cultural biases,” said Fudge. “These prejudices often affect determination if one’s life was truly in danger, while also eliminating all responsibility by those invoking the law to retreat and peacefully end an incident. No individual in our country should live with the fear of death based on race or age, and no individual’s death should be justified because they had the appearance of guilt, rather than being proven to have done anything wrong.”
“The use of a weapon to kill another human being is very rarely ‘justified’ in my mind, so I am joining with Senators and Congressmen requesting that more data be collected about the circumstances and sheer volume of killings that are ruled ‘justified’ under “stand your ground” laws and how these laws have a disparate racial impact in our communities,” said Gutiérrez.
In their letter today, the Members requested that the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report for “Justifiable Homicides” be amended to include data on the location of the homicide, whether it resulted in arrest or prosecution and the justification if not, and whether the basis for the finding of “justifiable homicide” was “stand your ground.”
Last month, Durbin convened a hearing on the civil rights implications when racial profiling and “stand your ground” laws mix.
Below is the full letter:
November 26, 2013
Dear Attorney General Holder:
There has been growing concern about the effect that state “stand your ground” laws have on the safety of our communities and on Americans’ civil rights. “Stand your ground” laws expand the situations in which lethal force can be used by civilians in response to perceived threats, and they create presumptions and immunities that diminish accountability under our justice system for those who use lethal force.
More than half of the states have passed some form of “stand your ground” legislation since 2005,[i] and studies show that these laws are contributing to increases in homicides[ii] and firearm injuries[iii] and are exacerbating racial disparities in the criminal justice system.[iv] You observed in a speech in July that these laws undermine public safety, and you called for an effort to “ensure that our laws reduce violence and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent.”
While the nature and impact of “stand your ground” laws may vary across the states, the Department of Justice can play a valuable role in providing centralized monitoring of the impact of these laws on public safety and civil rights. Justice Department components including the FBI and National Institute of Justice are already engaged in data collection and research efforts that have helped clarify the effect of “stand your ground” laws. We request that the Department build upon these ongoing efforts by pursuing the following additional steps to examine the impact of “stand your ground” laws:
a) Clarify the definition of “Justifiable Homicide” in the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report (which currently is defined as and limited to “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen”) to effectively capture other homicides which are ruled justifiable under “stand your ground” laws or for which no prosecution is brought.
b) Amend the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report for “Justifiable Homicides” to include data on the location of the homicide (e.g., public location vs. private location and inside vs. outside).
c) Amend the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report for “Justifiable Homicides” to include data on whether the homicide resulted in any arrests or prosecutions, and the justification upon which any decision not to arrest or declination to prosecute was based.
d) Amend the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report for “Justifiable Homicides” to include data on whether the victim or the offender was armed.
e) Amend the “Weapon Used” category of the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report for “Justifiable Homicides” to record the “Weapon used by Victim.”
f) Amend the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report for “Justifiable Homicides” to include the identification of each designated category of death as “murder,” “nonnegligent homicide” and/or “justifiable homicide” for each reported incident.
g) Amend the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report for “Justifiable Homicides” to include data on whether the basis for the finding of “justifiable homicide” was “stand your ground” in the “Circumstances” column.
h) Sponsor research through the National Institute of Justice on trends in justifiable homicides, with research assessing whether variations in state “stand your ground” laws and other laws governing the use of lethal force have a statistically significant impact on justifiable homicide and overall homicide rates.
i) Sponsor research through the National Institute of Justice on state-by-state trends involving race, gender and justifiable homicides, with research assessing whether variations in state “stand your ground” laws and other laws governing the use of lethal force have a statistically significant impact on racial disparities in justifiable homicides.
j) Sponsor research through the National Institute of Justice regarding uses of lethal force involving firearms by individuals who have been issued a concealed carry permit, and whether such uses of lethal force resulted in any arrests or prosecutions, with research assessing whether variations in “stand your ground” laws or other laws governing the use of lethal force and variations in state concealed carry laws have a statistically significant impact on the incidence and outcome of uses of lethal force.
We believe this information would prove extremely useful in helping to evaluate the laws that govern the use of lethal force and in quantifying the impact of such laws on public safety and civil rights.
Thank you for your consideration of this request. We look forward to your response. Please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss this matter further.
Richard J. Durbin Elijah E. Cummings
United States Senator Member of Congress
Mazie K. Hirono John Conyers, Jr.
United States Senator Member of Congress
Luis V. Gutierrez Robert C. “Bobby” Scott
Member of Congress Member of Congress
Marcia L. Fudge
Member of Congress
cc: Mr. Thomas Turner
Chair, Criminal Justice Information Services Advisory Policy Board
[i] See Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “Shoot First Laws Policy Summary,” July 18, 2013.
[ii] See, e.g., Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra, “Does Strengthening Self-Defense Law Deter Crime or Escalate Violence?” NBER Working Paper No. w18134, June 2012.
[iii] See, e.g., Chandler McCellan and Erdal Tekin, “Stand Your Ground Laws, Homicides, and Injuries,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 18187, https://www.nber.org/papers/w18187, June 2012.
[iv] See, e.g., John J. Roman, “Race, Justifiable Homicide, and Stand Your Ground Laws: Analysis of FBI Supplementary Homicide Report Data,” July 2013.