Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact Florida: Drop in violent crime appears unrelated to 'stand your ground'

An author of Florida's "stand your ground" legislation has been defending the law on national television, warning that it may not have anything to do with the recent death of Trayvon Martin.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, told MSNBC's Tamron Hall last week that the law protects people who are attacked, but it does not protect aggressors.

"There's nothing in this statute to protect people who are pursuing and confronting other people," he said.

Hall asked Baxley about crime statistics that show justifiable homicides are up in Florida, but Baxley said that's one statistic.

"What we've learned is, if we empower people to stop bad things from happening, they will," Baxley said. "And in fact, that statistic is coupled with another statistic. That is the fact that we've had a dramatic drop in violent crime since this law has been in effect."

To check Baxley's claim, we turned to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's crime statistics and various news reports in Florida.

We found that violent crime has dropped significantly in Florida since 2005. (The law went into effect Oct. 1, 2005.) We calculated the drop in violent crime rates, to account for population growth. In 2006 and 2007, violent crime rates were up just slightly up compared with 2005. In 2008, the violent crime rate began declining. By 2011, the violent crime rate had dropped 14 percent since 2005.

But that's not the whole story. We also looked at crime rates for the five years before the "stand your ground" law started, and we found violent crime was declining during those years as well. Between 2000 and 2005, violent crime dropped 12 percent.

When we turned to news reports, we found many stories documenting drops in crime nationwide over the past decade. Experts have been surprised that the numbers have continued dropping through a historic recession.

Why are rates declining? Nobody can say for sure.

Here are just a few theories we ran across: Police are getting better at using technology to prevent crime. More people are in jail and therefore can't commit crimes. Online banking and debit cards mean people don't have cash at home. Abortions have suppressed the number of poor, unsupervised young men. Low inflation makes stealing less attractive. President Barack Obama is setting a positive example for African-American youth. New gun laws establishing the right to carry are deterring criminals. Joblessness means people are at home watching the neighborhood. Extended unemployment benefits and food stamps mean people don't have to turn to crime.

Baxley told PolitiFact Florida he didn't think the "stand your ground" law was the main reason for Florida's drop in crime rates. But it could be one of several reasons, he said.

"I don't want to claim all the effect," Baxley said. "But in public policy, if you make changes, and things go in a positive direction, you're grateful. So I don't want to say we caused all of it, but I do think that it helped."

Others have said the "stand your ground" law could potentially drive up the crime rate.

In 2007, the National District Attorneys Association convened a symposium on the "stand your ground" law and other expansions to the right to use deadly force in self-defense. A symposium report listed a number of concerns: Criminals might be emboldened as they learn to use "stand your ground" as a legal defense. More deaths could result as more people carry weapons for self-defense. People might feel less safe if they believe anyone could use deadly force in an unsettling situation.

More pointedly for the Trayvon Martin case, the report noted that a misinterpretation of physical clues could result in the use of deadly force, "exacerbating culture, class, and race differences" and that there could be "a disproportionately negative effect on minorities, persons from lower socioeconomic status, and young adults/juveniles."

Baxley said, "We've had a dramatic drop in violent crime since this law has been in effect." There has been a drop, but rates were declining before the law went into effect. And we found no proof that the "stand your ground" law caused the drop. We rate this claim Half True.

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