Stand Your Ground laws Challenged at the UN

Ben Cohen
This month, the United Nation's Committee on Human Rights (CHR) will be considering a report submitted by the Dream Defenders, the NAACP, and the Community Justice Project of Florida Legal Services. Dream Defender Ahmad Abuznaid will travel to Geneva to meet with the CHR. The report alleges that the U.S. is in violation of its treaty obligations under the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," (ICCPR). Specifically, stand your ground laws, (SYG), violate America's obligation to protect the lives of its citizens. They also allege that juries apply these laws in a racially discriminatory fashion, although this doesn't appear to be the formal charge levied against the United States.

The reports states, "These laws make it easier for people to murder other human beings and without facing legal consequences. They essentially eviscerate any deterrent to gun related homicides, and provide a road map to getting out of jail with blanket immunity." To support this claim the report cites a study conducted at the University of Texas A&M. The study alleges that Stand Your Ground laws cause 500-700 additional homicides in the states that have adopted them. They also cite additional data showing that in SYG states homicides are more likely to be ruled justifiable. According to the report, this violates America's sworn commitment not to arbitrarily deprive Americans of their lives.

Further, they argue that the law is discriminatory because it aggravates pre-existing racial disparities, based on a study conducted by the National Urban Institute. The study found that white-on-black killings are more likely to be ruled justifiable in SYG states, without a similar increase in the likelihood of black-on-white killings being ruled justifiable; ergo, the law is discriminatory in effect.

The report does not formally charge America with violating its commitment not to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. Rather, the report charges America with violating the sanctity of life provisions in Article 6 of the covenant. It goes on to make recommendations for how the U.S could bring themselves into compliance with international law; a new assault weapons ban, a federal repeal of all SYG laws, a ban on "straw purchases," and passage of the "End Racial Profiling Act."

The evidence presented in the report does not come close to establishing its claims. As the report acknowledges only a small fraction of homicides are eventually ruled justifiable, they cite the figure of 2%, clearly SYG laws do not "legalize murder." Further, the claims of racial bias are similarly unsubstantiated. The report doesn't attempt to show why more white-on-black homicides would be ruled justifiable in SYG states. Instead, the report assumes the statistics themselves constitute prima-facie evidence of discrimination. Racial bias is obviously not the only explanation for these discrepancies. Rates of gun-ownership and crime vary tremendously by race. Juries may be dutifully interpreting the law in a race neutral fashion, but are confronted by a comparatively larger number of marginal self-defense cases involving white-on-black killings.

Most importantly, even if the claims are true what would SYG states be guilty of? They would be guilty of passing a stupid law that resulted in additional deaths, and guilty murderers going free. How would the petitioners feel if the UN ruled that Colorado's marijuana laws lead to more traffic deaths, and were depriving innocent Americans of their right to life? Nobody has alleged that the law is either explicitly or implicitly discriminatory, they allege that the law has had an adverse effect on African-Americans relative to other groups. How would the NAACP and the Dream Defenders feel if the UN decided that affirmative action has an adverse effect on white people, and so it has to be abolished?

Maybe stand your ground is a dumb law, but it was passed by the elected representatives of the people of Florida. It is the prerogative of the people to decide whether the costs of a law outweigh the benefits, not the UN. Legislatures have to consider such tradeoffs all the time; speed limits, sale of fireworks, helmet laws, etc. Expanding the scope of human rights law to include the minutiae of our criminal code effectively ends national sovereignty, and imposes a single standard on the world.

This month, the United Nation's Committee on Human Rights (CHR) will be considering a report submitted by the Dream Defenders, the NAACP, and the Community Justice Project of Florida Legal Services. Dream Defender Ahmad Abuznaid will travel to Geneva to meet with the CHR. The report alleges that the U.S. is in violation of its treaty obligations under the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," (ICCPR). Specifically, stand your ground laws, (SYG), violate America's obligation to protect the lives of its citizens. They also allege that juries apply these laws in a racially discriminatory fashion, although this doesn't appear to be the formal charge levied against the United States.

The reports states, "These laws make it easier for people to murder other human beings and without facing legal consequences. They essentially eviscerate any deterrent to gun related homicides, and provide a road map to getting out of jail with blanket immunity." To support this claim the report cites a study conducted at the University of Texas A&M. The study alleges that Stand Your Ground laws cause 500-700 additional homicides in the states that have adopted them. They also cite additional data showing that in SYG states homicides are more likely to be ruled justifiable. According to the report, this violates America's sworn commitment not to arbitrarily deprive Americans of their lives.

Further, they argue that the law is discriminatory because it aggravates pre-existing racial disparities, based on a study conducted by the National Urban Institute. The study found that white-on-black killings are more likely to be ruled justifiable in SYG states, without a similar increase in the likelihood of black-on-white killings being ruled justifiable; ergo, the law is discriminatory in effect.

The report does not formally charge America with violating its commitment not to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. Rather, the report charges America with violating the sanctity of life provisions in Article 6 of the covenant. It goes on to make recommendations for how the U.S could bring themselves into compliance with international law; a new assault weapons ban, a federal repeal of all SYG laws, a ban on "straw purchases," and passage of the "End Racial Profiling Act."

The evidence presented in the report does not come close to establishing its claims. As the report acknowledges only a small fraction of homicides are eventually ruled justifiable, they cite the figure of 2%, clearly SYG laws do not "legalize murder." Further, the claims of racial bias are similarly unsubstantiated. The report doesn't attempt to show why more white-on-black homicides would be ruled justifiable in SYG states. Instead, the report assumes the statistics themselves constitute prima-facie evidence of discrimination. Racial bias is obviously not the only explanation for these discrepancies. Rates of gun-ownership and crime vary tremendously by race. Juries may be dutifully interpreting the law in a race neutral fashion, but are confronted by a comparatively larger number of marginal self-defense cases involving white-on-black killings.

Most importantly, even if the claims are true what would SYG states be guilty of? They would be guilty of passing a stupid law that resulted in additional deaths, and guilty murderers going free. How would the petitioners feel if the UN ruled that Colorado's marijuana laws lead to more traffic deaths, and were depriving innocent Americans of their right to life? Nobody has alleged that the law is either explicitly or implicitly discriminatory, they allege that the law has had an adverse effect on African-Americans relative to other groups. How would the NAACP and the Dream Defenders feel if the UN decided that affirmative action has an adverse effect on white people, and so it has to be abolished?

Maybe stand your ground is a dumb law, but it was passed by the elected representatives of the people of Florida. It is the prerogative of the people to decide whether the costs of a law outweigh the benefits, not the UN. Legislatures have to consider such tradeoffs all the time; speed limits, sale of fireworks, helmet laws, etc. Expanding the scope of human rights law to include the minutiae of our criminal code effectively ends national sovereignty, and imposes a single standard on the world.