National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre appeared on Fox News' America Live yesterday to comment on the controversial “Kill At Will” law that has been connected to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. LaPierre's appearance came the day after The Wall Street Journal reported on a new study that linked the NRA-backed “Kill At Will” laws to higher homicide rates, though America Live host Shannon Bream failed to raise the results of the study with LaPierre.
Starting with Florida in 2005, at least 25 states have enacted some form of “Kill At Will.” The study, conducted by Texas A&M University economics professor Mark Hoekstra, reached the damning conclusion that the expansion of such self-defense laws since 2005 led to an increase in the incidence of homicides:
[W]e find the laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant 7 to 9 percent, which translates into an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the states that adopted castle doctrine [Hoekstra's term for laws passed since 2005 that expand the right to self-defense]. Thus, by lowering the expected costs associated with using lethal force, castle doctrine laws induce more of it. This increase in homicides could be due either to the increased use of lethal force in self-defense situations, or to the escalation of violence in otherwise non-lethal conflicts. We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent. This is important because murder excludes non-negligent manslaughter classifications that one might think are used more frequently in self-defense cases. But regardless of how one interprets increases from various classifications, it is clear that the primary effect of strengthening self-defense law is to increase homicide. [emphasis added]
Hoekstra also found no link between the enactment of “Kill At Will” laws and a decrease in other types of crime:
Results indicate that the prospect of facing additional self-defense does not deter crime. Specifically, we find no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. Moreover, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out meaningful deterrence effects.
The study undermines LaPierre's organization's defense of “Kill At Will” laws, which were enacted across the nation after dogged lobbying efforts by the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council. LaPierre wasn't asked about the study during his Fox appearance, but was instead given free rein to make a number of misleading claims about the nature of “Kill At Will” laws.
LaPierre described Florida's “Kill At Will” law, and similar laws nationwide that remove the duty to retreat before employing deadly force outside of the home while often adding the presumption that the use of deadly force was lawful, as “completely unremarkable.” Contrary to LaPierre's characterization, increased scrutiny of “Kill At Will” laws has uncovered numerous instances in which the laws have been tied to seemingly avoidable killings.
On April 3, Daniel Adkins Jr., a disabled man with the mental capacity of a 13-year-old, was fatally shot in an Arizona Taco Bell parking lot. The unarmed Adkins was reportedly walking his dog when Cordell Jude turned the corner of drive-thru, nearly hitting Adkins with his car. Words were exchanged, and Adkins “air swung” at the vehicle, according to Jude, before Jude pulled out his handgun and shot Adkins in the chest, killing him. Adkins never touched the car or Jude, who has thus far escaped arrest.
On February 23, a Louisiana grand jury declined to indict Byron Thomas for fatally shooting 15-year-old Jamonta Miles. According to law enforcement, Miles and several other teens (all unarmed) got into an argument with Thomas after trying to buy marijuana from him, and then fled in their SUV. Thomas reportedly opened fire on the vehicle as it was moving away from him, killing Miles. Thomas fled but was later identified as the gunman. Even while the search for Miles' killer was ongoing, Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre stated that the shooter “decided to stand his ground,” and later justified Thomas' actions: “As far as Mr. Thomas knows, they're going to stop in 5 feet and jump out with a gun.”
These are just two examples of controversial shootings connected to “Kill At Will.” As Hoekstra's study indicates, there must be something remarkable about a law that, where enacted, is linked to increases in both justifiable and unlawful homicides.