Crime Prevention Research Center in the News regarding Senate hearing on Stand Your Ground laws

29 Oct , 2013  

From the Jackson County Floridian: Witnesses, from left, Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., Clinical Professor of Law, Director of the Criminal Justice Institute, Harvard Law School; David LaBahn, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys president and CEO; Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at Cato Institute; John R. Lott, Jr., president, Crime Prevention Research Center of Swarthmore, Pa.; and Lucia McBath of Atlanta, Ga.; are sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on so-called “stand your ground laws.”

John Lott’s initial statement to the committee can be seen on C-SPAN here and his second discussion is available here (the entire hearing is available here).

From the Daily Caller

But John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, rebutted that claim saying that blacks — especially poor blacks — benefit most from the law.

“In Florida, blacks make up about 16 percent of the population, but they account for 31 percent of the state’s defendants invoking stand your ground laws,” he said. Lott contended that black defendants who invoke the law as a defense are acquitted “almost eight percentage points more often than whites.” . . .

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Cato scholar Ilya Shapiro and Lott all pointed out that as a state senator Obama supported a 1961 Illinois law extending the castle doctrine, a legal concept on which stand your ground is partly based. . . .

Sacramento Bee, Miami HeraldIdaho Statesman, The State (South Carolina), McClatchy DC, Bradenton Herald (Florida)

John R. Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, urged the senators to consider that the vast majority of cases in which the defendant invokes stand-your-ground protection involve crimes between people of the same race; he cited a Tampa Bay Tribune study of 112 Florida cases that found 90 percent of African-American victims were killed by another African-American.

“The people who are most likely to be victims of crimes are poor blacks who benefit from the option of being able to protect themselves,” Lott said. . . .

Orlando Sentinel, Los Angeles TimesChicago TribuneThe Ledger (Lakeland, Florida), Jacksonville Daily Record (Jacksonville, Florida), Sun-SentinelNews-Press (Southwest, Florida), Florida Courier

In Florida, blacks comprise 16 percent of the population but 31 percent of those who invoked “stand your ground” as a defense, John Lott, Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, told the panel. And blacks who invoked the statute were acquitted “almost eight percentage points more often than whites,” Lott said. . . .

Cleveland Plain Dealer

“The people who are most likely to be victims of crimes are poor blacks who benefit from the option of being able to protect themselves,” said John R. Lott, Jr., president of Pennsylvania’s Crime Prevention Research Center. . . .

Legal Insurrection

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 11.53.42 AM

Dr. John Lott, Crime Prevention Research Center

One of the anti-SYG witnesses, Professor Sullivan from Harvard Law School, did raise some actual data–but when these were utterly destroyed by the later testimony of Dr. John Lott and Elliot Shapiro of CATA, Professor Sullivan was swift to discount the use of data (which he himself had introduced into the testimony) and instead focus on the “real people” behind the data. In sharp contrast, the testimony of the pro-SYG speakers was focused and direct. . . .

Indeed, their [Professor Sullivan and David LaBahn] misstatements of the law were so egregious that at one point Dr. Lott was obliged to read aloud from the actual Florida statute they had badly mischaracterized, to which they naturally had no substantive response. In that case they were claiming that even criminal aggressors could claim Stand Your Ground privilege under Florida law, a claim that the plain language of the statute read by Dr. Lott clearly destroys. . . .

Dr. Lott was, of course, marvelous. He noted that SYG laws simply help people to be able to defend themselves from vicious attack — an attack that a reasonable person would believe threatened them with death or grave bodily harm. He also noted that the large majority of people who are victims of such attacks are poor blacks.

Indeed, he noted, the very reason that so many states have adopted SYG laws is because requiring innocent people to retreat was making it more difficult for them to defend themselves and their families.

He noted that in Florida blacks make up 16% of the population, but constitute fully 30% of those invoking SYG as justification for their use of force. Further, in SYG cases blacks are acquitted 8% more than are whites presenting the same defense.

Citing data from the Tampa Bay Tribune, he also noted that in 90% of cases where a black person was killed by someone claiming SYG, the person claiming SYG was also black.

He also noted that the statistics that seemingly condemn SYG for disparate racial impact (such as those presented by the Urban Institute) or crime (Texas A&M University) were inherently flawed.  For example, the Texas A&M study didn’t account for any other gun control laws that would determine the impact of SYG laws. In fact, many other facts are involved in such an analysis, including the ease with which a concealed carry permit can be obtained in a given jurisdiction, or whether a state has “safe storage” laws that impede the ability of a defender to access a gun in self-defense. When these other factors are taken into consideration, the impact on crime of SYG laws disappear. . . .


Harvard Law professor Ronald S. Sullivan said the law “tells Floridians that they can incorrectly profile young black children, kill them, and be protected by stand your ground laws.” He said these laws unfairly target minorities and encourage citizens to act as vigilantes.

John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said the majority of people that invoke stand your ground laws in court have been of the same race as the victim.

He rebutted Sullivan’s claim by indicating that blacks benefit most from these laws.

“In Florida, blacks make up about 16 percent of the population, but they account for 31 percent of the state’s defendants invoking stand your ground laws,” he said. . . .

Crime Prevention Research Center  President John Lott echoed Shapiro, arguing that the laws simply help those who must defend themselves. Lott added that he thinks that the laws have benefitted minorities. . . .

Other coverage appeared in Nonprofit Quarterly.

Coverage by advocacy groups

On the Left


GOP witness John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, also argued Cruz’s point at length. “Poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas are not only the most likely victims of crime, they are also the ones who benefit the most from Stand Your Ground laws,” he said according to prepared testimony. Later, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he found Lott’s argument “compelling,” and that he did not see how the law “has a racial injustice about it.”

This is an oversimplified, if not misleading, portrayal of the racial disparity in Stand Your Ground. It looks only at the rate of successful Florida claims based on the shooter’s race, which indeed is slightly higher for black shooters than white shooters.

By no means does this mean blacks “benefit” under the law.

A report from the Congressional Research Service on inter-racial shootings nationwide shows disparity at work. Without looking specifically at Stand Your Ground, CRS found a clear racial disparity in shootings that were ruled to be justified, as well as an increase in cases of justifiable white-on-black homicides after states began enacting the ALEC model legislation in 2005. According to the report, white-on-black shootings were considered justified far more often than black-on-white shootings.

The same data that Florida Cruz cited also shows that killers are far more likely to go free when their victims are black. In those cases with black or Hispanic victims, the killings were found justified by the Stand Your Ground law 78 percent of the time, compared to 56 percent in cases with white victims. The racial disparity among victims has also been confirmed by other studies, like the Urban Institute’s finding that in Stand Your Ground states, white-on-black homicides are 354 percent more likely to be ruled justified than white-on-white homicides. . . .

The problems with the Congressional Research Service report are even greater than the Urban Institute report that Lott discussed in his testimony.

1) The report doesn’t even look at Stand Your Ground laws.

2) No mention is made of the problems with how “justifiable homicides” are measured.

3) The comparison of justifiable homicides to all homicides is incredibly misleading.  It assumes that homicides by whites and blacks are similar.  Suppose that blacks have a lot more gang versus gang killings than whites, that by itself would lower the rate of the percentage of homicides for blacks that could be considered “justifiable.”

4) None of the characteristics of these “justifiable homicides” are accounted for.

ThinkProgress doesn’t even discuss or respond to the points raised in Lott’s testimony about the Urban Institute report.

Mother Jones

John Lott, a pro-gun researcher who has chided President Barack Obama in the pages of National Review for failing to speak out against black-on-white violence, offered more data to support Cruz’s theory that blacks gain from SYG laws. “If you’re going to concentrate on the fact that relatively few people who kill blacks are going to be convicted, you have to realize that most of those people who aren’t being convicted are blacks,” he said. “Ninety percent of blacks who were killed in cases where Stand Your Ground was invoked as a defense were killed by other blacks.” Lott was suggesting that the limited data available could be read to suggest that African Americans were benefiting from SYG laws. . . .

By the way, the point of my National Review piece was that President Obama could do a lot to bring Americans together by expressing outrage about all types of interracial murders.  By selectively focusing on white-on-black crime, Obama makes the racial rift in the US worse.  Of course, being a Mother Jones piece it is filled with many errors and there is no reason to expect them to provide the logic of my argument.

On the Right

Red Alert Politics

Testifying at a high-profile Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing that included the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, John R. Lott, Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, contended that it appears “all people benefit” from stand your ground laws when taking data into account. And contrary to arguments that the laws have a discriminatory effect, they benefit black Americans in particular, Lott said.

“Poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas are not only the most likely victims of crime, they are also the ones who benefit the most from stand your ground laws,” Lott provided in his testimony. “The laws make it easier for them to protect themselves when the police can’t be there fast enough. Therefore, rules that make self-defense more difficult disproportionately impact blacks.”

As evidence, Lott took figures from the Tampa Bay Times that frequently have been used to criticize the effects of stand your ground laws and put them into broader context.

“In Florida, for example, in contrast to the [Trayvon] Martin and [Jordan] Davis cases, there are 15 cases where black men, who were being threatened, defended themselves and successfully relied on this law in their defense, with their charges either being dropped or they were acquitted,” according to Lott’s testimony. He also crunched data to find that 69 percent of blacks in Florida who raised a stand your ground defense in court were not convicted, compared to just 62 percent of whites. . . .

“Racism shouldn’t be tolerated. Yet, precisely because of its seriousness, false accusations of racism are also unacceptable,” Lott provided in his testimony. “Those making explosive claims of racism  should carefully back up their claims.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the ranking member of the panel, concurred.

“This is not about inflaming racial tensions,” Cruz said. “This is about the right of everyone to protect themselves and protect their families.” . . .

UPDATE: Some later fallout from the Stand Your Ground debate at Al Jazeera.

A 2013 study by the Urban Institute found that in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws a white perpetrator and a black victim are 281 percent more likely to be ruled justified than cases with a white perpetrator and white victim.

However, John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, has argued that such self-defense laws actually help poor blacks. Writing for the Chicago Tribune, he said, “Since poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas are the most likely victims of crime, they are also the ones who benefit the most from ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws. The laws make it easier for would-be victims to protect themselves when the police can’t arrive fast enough.” . . .

A critical review of the Urban Institute study is available here.

UPDATE: John Lott had a letter to the editor in the New York Daily News on November 6th.

The Daily News gives credence to a flawed study claiming racism and guns go together and misstates the study’s claims (“U.S. whites exhibiting higher levels of racism more likely to be gun owners: study,”, Oct. 31). Is it really “racist” if you don’t agree that slavery’s legacy still greatly impacts blacks’ success today? The study asserts that since whites who don’t agree are more likely to own guns, that proves racism and guns go together. Yet, when I reran their estimates, I found that minorities who have the same views also were more likely to own guns. John R. Lott Jr., president, Crime Prevention Research Center

UPDATE: Still more coverage of our work on Stand Your Ground laws is available at

What they fail to note is that this is not necessarily a white vs. black issue (or black vs. white). Rather, many of the defendants who were acquitted when the attacker was black were themselves black. This is why we see elevated numbers among blacks, who made up “16.6 of Florida’s population in 2013” yet “accounted for 31 percent of the defendants invoking stand your ground defense.”

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, John R. Lott explained:

Blacks are overwhelmingly killed by other blacks. Thus, it is also true that blacks claiming self-defense under stand your ground law are convicted at a lower rate than are whites. About 69 of blacks raising the stand your ground defense were not convicted compared to 62 percent of whites.


2 Responses

  1. […] of Roman’s report is available here.  Apparently, the report was referenced extensively in last week’s Senate testimony on Stand Your Ground laws. 1) If you were to do this study right, you would look at the change in justifiable homicides in […]

  2. […] Matt Gaetz began quoting from John Lott’s recent testimony to the US Senate at about 3:31 into the video and continues until […]

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