Latest Drop in U.S. Murder Rate Will Confound Critics of Self-Defense Laws

Posted on June 15, 2012

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Giving a positive character to the old expression, "same old stuff," this week the FBI preliminarily reported that violent crime has dropped yet again – for the 18th time in the last 20 years. According to the report, the estimated annual number of murders dropped 1.9 percent from 2010 to 2011 which, given the increase in the U.S. population during the year, would translate into a drop of between 2.5-3 percent in the per capita rate of murders.

The FBI is expected to report the final 2011 figures around the end of the summer. Assuming those figures match the current estimates, the nation's murder rate has been cut by about 53 percent and the total violent crime rate has been cut by about 49 percent since 1991, when violent crime hit an all-time high. Stated another way, the nation's murder rate has fallen to about a 48-year low, and the nation's total violent crime rate has fallen to about a 41-year low.

Obviously, this is bad news on top of bad news for gun control groups. Ever since the 1970s, they have said that more guns must--as if by some law of nature--result in more crime. It's also bad news for people who are currently trying to undermine self-defense laws that have been popularly-termed "Castle Doctrine" or "Stand Your Ground."

Recently, two researchers at Texas A&M University wrote an article claiming that between 2000 and 2009, murders and non-negligent manslaughters increased between seven and nine percent in 23 states that adopted Castle Doctrine laws between 2005 and 2009, and that the increase was entirely because of those laws. (In fact, 24 states adopted such laws in that time period.)

At first glance, some of the initial observations that could be made include: First, no trend in crimes of any sort, whether up or down, can be explained by only one factor. Second, one third of murders don't involve firearms, a factor the researchers do not appear to have addressed. Third, the researchers apparently made no attempt to determine how many homicides were determined by the courts to have been criminal, despite defendants attempting to invoke the protections provided by the laws in question. Fourth, most murders take place between family members and acquaintances, in situations in which such laws are arguably less likely to be relevant.

Fifth, the researchers concluded that there was no difference in the effect, on criminal homicides, in states that have laws that impose a duty to retreat from a bona fide threat that occurs away from home and at other limited locations, versus states that impose no duty to retreat from any bona fide threat, irrespective of location. "No duty to retreat" provisions are, of course, the core element of "Castle Doctrine" laws.

Sixth, the U.S. murder rate has dropped significantly since the 24 states adopted their self-defense enhancement laws. Bearing in mind that the laws of 23 of those states took effect at the end of 2006 or thereafter, the average annual murder rate between 2000 and 2006 was 5.6, while the average rate between 2008 and 2011 was just under 5.0, a decrease of 11 per cent. In fact, the highest murder rate in the period was in 2006, and since then the murder rate has dropped about 18 percent.

Of the states in question, 15 of the 23 that adopted their laws before 2009 had murder rate decreases between the year they adopted their law and 2009 (and one state had no change), and 20 of the 24 states that adopted their laws before 2010 had decreases from their adoption year to 2010, with an average decrease of 10.5 percent. The FBI hasn't reported preliminary 2011 murder rates for the states, only for the nation as a whole. But when the state data are in, no doubt the decrease in murder in states that have adopted self-defense enhancement laws will be even more obvious.

Seventh, comparing murder rates between 2000 and 2006, to rates between 2007 and 2010, of states that have not adopted the laws, trends ranged from decreases of over 20 percent in Right-to-Carry states Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada and Utah, to an increase of 49 percent in Delaware, which has no Right-to-Carry law.

Finally, variation between the states, with respect to their amending of relevant statistics to reflect the numerous instances in which homicides initially classified as criminal in nature are determined by the courts to have been justified, could be significant enough to confound researchers' calculations.

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