As the U.S. homicide rate declines, more people are killing each other and claiming self-defense—a trend most pronounced in states with “stand your ground” laws, reports the Wall Street Journal. These laws, which grant people more leeway to attack kill someone who is threatening them, are attracting scrutiny after the controversial killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, by a Florida neighborhood watchman. Florida has one of the broadest self-defense laws of the 25 states with some version of a “stand your ground” principle. So-called justifiable homicides nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, when 326 were reported. Over that same period, total killings averaged 16,000 a year.
The data don’t capture why a killer felt threatened, or whether the victim was armed. In about 60 percent of justifiable-homicides in which the relationship between victim and killer was known, the pair were strangers. Among all homicides, when races differed, the victim was more often white. In justifiable-homicide cases, the opposite was true: The victim was more often black. Criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University said that difference “is certainly, on the face of it, something that needs to be explored. Could it be an element of racism? You can’t necessarily assume that.” The full article is available only to paid subscribers.