By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) – Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law has been associated with a surge in teen deaths by homicide with a firearm, a new study suggests.

The 2005 law, making it legal to respond to a perceived threat with lethal force even when it might be possible to safely flee, has previously been linked to a 32% increase in firearm homicides of adults in Florida, researchers report in Injury Prevention. The current study suggests that gun homicides among adolescents also surged 45% after the law took effect.

“We knew there were a number of high-profile Stand Your Ground cases which resulted in the death of a teen, including Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and others, but this study is the first to show that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is linked to an increase in teen homicides,” said lead study author Michelle Degli Esposti of the University of Oxford in the UK.

“The results are important because they suggest that since the law was introduced in 2005, Florida has become less safe,” Degli Eposti said by email. “Specifically, teens and particularly black teens are now more likely to be fatally shot.”

To assess the impact of Florida’s law on teen homicides, researchers examined quarterly rates of firearm homicides of youth 15 to 19 years old from 1999 to 2017.

Before the law, Florida’s average quarterly rate of teenage homicide victims killed by firearms was relatively stable at about 1.53 fatalities for every 100,000 adolescents. Afterward, however, it climbed to 2.16 fatalities for every 100,000 teens.

Black teens were victims in more of these homicides than white adolescents and teens from other racial and ethnic groups; black youth were also disproportionately impacted by the rising firearm homicide rates.

Firearm homicides of black adolescents rose from 0.97 for every 100,000 teens before the law to 1.55 afterwards.

In comparison, white teens and youth from other racial and ethnic groups had firearm homicide rates climb from 0.56 to 0.61 for every 100,000 teens.

Since Florida’s law passed, another 23 states have enacted similar laws, the study team notes.

It’s possible that circumstances unique to Florida might have impacted the results, and that changes in firearm homicide rates might be different in other states with similar laws on the books, the researchers point out.

One limitation of the study is that researchers lacked data on the circumstances of individual crimes, making it impossible to know what factors might have impacted firearm use in each case.

“It is possible that individuals are becoming more likely to use lethal force if they perceive their lives to be in danger because they believe that the law will protect them,” said Alex Piquero, a professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas who wasn’t involved in the study.

“This may have adversely affected African-Americans to the extent that persons who use lethal force in Stand Your Ground-type situations may have conscious or unconscious stereotypes against African-Americans, especially African-American adolescents,” Piquero said by email.

An uptick in firearm homicides of teens appears to be one unintended consequence of the law, Piquero added.

“Making people safer – and making people feel safer – is certainly important from a public safety perspective,” Piquero said. “However, it is also the case that in some instances, efforts designed to attain that outcome may be doing more harm than good.”

SOURCE: Injury Prevention, online December 20, 2019.