Last month’s shooting in downtown Iowa City unnerved the hundreds gathered on the Ped Mall that night, many of them UI students. One of the victims, Kaleek Jones, 22, died from his wounds, and suspect Lamar Wilson, 23, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. Reports say Wilson will use the “stand your ground” defense, a controversial provision added to Iowa gun laws earlier this year.
Following examination of House File 517 and studies on the effects of “stand your ground” laws, the Daily Iowan Editorial Board vehemently opposes Iowa’s implementation of this vague loophole to legal immunity.
House File 517’s “stand your ground” provision overwhelmingly works to protect those who use deadly force in “self-defense.” The language it uses is incredibly vague and subjective, frequently employing the phrase “reasonable force” — and the provided description of what constitutes “reasonable force” manages further ambiguity (i.e., the document states it must be “reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to resist a like force or threat.”) Therefore, a perpetrator can be “wrong in the estimation of the danger” so long as their “estimation of the danger or the force necessary” is reasonable. Again, the bill’s parameters for what is “reasonable” leave much clarity to be desired.
Florida passed the first “stand your ground” law in 2005. Since then, almost 30 states have legislatively adopted “stand your ground” laws, and others have done so in practice through legal precedent or jury instructions. Those who support “stand your ground” assert that the provision champions Second Amendment rights. Depending on your interpretation of the Constitution, perhaps it does — but how equally does it serve this purpose? And most importantly, at what cost?
A quick look at studies of states with “stand your ground” laws reveals the self-defense measure is linked to higher homicide rates. A study conducted by Texas A&M University used 10 years of FBI data to test whether “stand your ground” laws deter crime or increase homicide. The researchers concluded expansions to Castle Doctrine not only fail to deter crime but increase total homicides by 7 to 9 percent.
And claims of “stand your ground” laws being racially biased are also grounded in statistical analysis. A research report from the Urban Institute analyzing FBI homicide data concluded, “The odds a white-on-black homicide is found justified is 281 percent greater than the odds a white-on-white homicide is found justified. By contrast, a black-on-white homicide has barely half the odds of being ruled justified relative to white-on-white homicides.” More disturbingly, homicides in “stand your ground” states are 65 percent more likely to be found justifiable in general. Therefore, “stand your ground” laws stand to only further exacerbate the inherent nature of racial bias in homicide cases.
Of course, it is arguable that because homicides in “stand your ground” states are more likely to be justified, black perpetrators are potentially more likely to have their self-defense claims justified. But whether or not that’s true, the overall gap between the justification odds of white-on-black homicides and black-on-white homicides remains. Coupled with the increased homicide rates in “stand your ground” states, the argument that the self-defense measure might curb our judicial system’s racial bias is shaky at best and negligent at worst.
Now, back to the case surrounding last month’s deadly shooting in which both the perpetrator and victim were black. Will Wilson’s use of the “stand your ground” defense relieve him of his first-degree murder charge? Odds are, probably not. Regardless, each time this elusive provision is used as a defense in Iowa, our justice system strays further from objectivity and fairness. Only time will tell how far.