By Isabella Rosario
Earlier this month, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill that foresees major changes to the state’s firearm laws — including a new Stand Your Ground provision. Following the bill’s signing, Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, declared “Iowans got their freedoms back today.” But studies showing the ugly truth of Stand Your Ground laws may reflect the exact opposite.
Since Florida passed the first Stand Your Ground law in 2005, the controversial law has been adopted in more than 20 states. The provision authorizes a person to use lethal force in self-defense of any perceived threat. Specifically, the Iowa law states, “A person may be wrong in the estimation of danger or the force necessary … as long as there is a reasonable basis for the belief.”
When George Zimmerman saw a black kid in a hoodie walking around his Sanford, Florida, neighborhood, he wrongly perceived 17-year-old Travyon Martin as a threat. Zimmerman shot and killed him in “self-defense,” and a jury found him not guilty of murder under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. This verdict incited heated protests nationwide; activists argued that Martin’s blackness was directly correlated to Zimmerman being found not guilty. And unfortunately, statistics don’t indicate they were wrong.
An in-depth report from an American Bar Association task force found Stand Your Ground laws have done nothing to decrease violent crime rates — in fact, they incentivize people to shoot because they believe they will be legally protected. And if they’re a white person shooting a black person, they probably will be. A study from the Urban Institute found white-on-black homicides were 281 percent more likely to be justified by courts than black-on-white homicides. In states with Stand Your Ground laws, this gap only increases.
This data become even more troubling when you consider how black people, especially black men, are often dehumanized by society. The shooting of black teenager Mike Brown by white police Officer Darren Wilson is a prime example of this. Despite the fact that Wilson and Brown were of comparable size, Wilson described himself as “a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” One study included in the task-force report determined that just showing a person a black face made that person more likely to believe that person had a weapon. Furthermore, the report indicated this biased fear of African Americans becomes more dangerous when there is no legal provision to “constrain the use of force.” Stand Your Ground laws only enable this reckless, deadly behavior.
The NRA likes to tout the phrase “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But the problem with Stand Your Ground laws is that they enable good guys to shoot “bad” guys before even determining if their target is a real threat. If the “bad” guy they end up killing turns out to be an unarmed civilian such as Martin, especially if the unarmed civilian is black like Martin, they can escape a guilty verdict claiming they had “reasonable basis.” Stand Your Ground laws aren’t about legalizing self-defense in life-threatening situations. They’re about people — especially white people — having the right to take an innocent person’s life, then get away with it by claiming self-defense.
Stand Your Ground laws have been statistically proven to encourage impulsive shooting, fuel racial bias, and not actually make anyone safer. The provisions granted in the Iowa law will only incentivize more violence, especially against communities of color. Branstad may be proud that this legislation “makes Iowa one of the most pro-Second Amendment states in the country,” but he shouldn’t be proud that he has signed a bill that will inevitably jeopardize the safety of Iowans.