The scientific journal JAMA Internal Medicine has published a paper utterly devoid of scientific or public policy merit, fraught with abject error and ignorance, and utterly lacking any arguable purpose other than to deceive gullible readers about the nature and merits of Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law.

The JAMA study follows another supposedly scientific study by others I have previously debunked:

Published on Monday, Nov. 14, the JAMA paper is entitled: “Evaluating the Impact of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Self-defense Law on Homicide and Suicide by Firearm: An Interrupted Time Series Study.”

How this paper passed peer review and why it has not already been withdrawn is a question left to the reader.

The three authors of this paper that examines a Florida self-defense law do not claim any expertise whatever in the law, and consequences of their (willful?) ignorance are painfully evident throughout the paper. The absence of a claim to legal expertise is made clear when one looks at departments for which the authors work: “Social Policy and Intervention,” “Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,” and “Biostatistics and Epidemiology.” Law? Yeah, not so much.

That the paper was written not for purposes of scientific advancement or public policy utility but solely to push the authors’ ideological preferences is made apparent by the their statements to the press outside the highly constrained bounds of the paper itself.

One of the authors, Antonio Gasparrini, claims in the UK’s Daily Mail that the study shows how Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law drives increased murders.

“This study highlights how Stand Your Ground is likely to be a cause of the rise in Florida murders, and provides crucial information which may influence future decision-making that affects wellbeing in the US and abroad,” said co-author Antonio Gasparrini of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

In fact, the paper makes no particular effort whatever to study murders, as explained below.

The paper’s lead author, David Humphreys, is cited in the Wall Street Journal as hoping that “the study would compel officials to review the law and consider whether it should be amended or repealed.” This is a bizarre hope given that his paper is equally consistent with Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law having been an unmitigated success as it is with a law that ought to be repealed.  As explained below, Humphrey’s hope that “Stand-Your-Ground” be repealed, in the context of his own paper, is entirely consistent with a desire for an increase in the murders, maimings, and rapes of innocent people.

In short, the paper appears to be nothing more than the usual faux “science” anti-self-defense propaganda of the sort that has long ago become familiar to gun owners across America, and which years ago led to Congress appropriately denying taxpayer funds for “scientists” turning out similar “research” tripe in the past.

Collectively the authors make numerous substantive errors, any one of which would gut any claimed scientific or public policy utility of their paper, but in the interests of brevity I will focus on just two.

JAMA Paper Fails to Distinguish Between Homicide and Murder

The paper itself authors claim that the passage of Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground is correlated with an increase in the state’s homicides. Indeed, a one-time spike in homicides did apparently occur in the year immediately following the law’s passage.

To take from this that the law had negative public policy consequences—as implicitly claimed by author Humprey’s in his call for repeal—or that the law has led to an increase in murders—as explicitly claimed by author Gasparrini—is such a high degree of nonsense as to qualify as academic malfeasance.

“Homicide” and “murder” are not synonymous terms. The WSJ notes that the CDC defines “homicide” as “one person causing the death of another with intentional force but not necessarily an intent to kill.” It is important to note that there is nothing about this definition that implies anything unlawful whatever. While it is definitionally true that all murders are homicides, it is not true that all homicides are murder. Indeed, not only are many homicides not murder, many are not merely legally justified but actually a social good.

This is easily illustrated. A rapist who kills his rape victim has (in addition to committing rape) committed a homicide—and it is also true that this homicide is a murder, an unlawful, unjustified killing of another person. In contrast, should the rape victim manage to foil her rapist by killing him, she has also committed a homicide—but her homicide is a justified killing in self-defense, not an unlawful murder. Both killings are homicides, but the former is murder and the latter is not.

When the authors of this “scientific” paper thus claim to have found that Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law is linked to an increase in “homicides,” they have failed to find anything of either scientific or public policy utility whatever. Their research tells us absolutely nothing about what portion of these homicides are unlawful murders and which are legally justified killings.

To put it another way, for all anyone can tell from this paper every single one of the purportedly “Stand-Your-Ground” homicides was a lawful killing of a criminal predator who would otherwise have been successful in murdering, maiming, or raping an innocent victim. In other words, for all the authors’ claims that Stand-Your-Ground has led to an increase in unlawful violence it is equally as likely that the law has led to a decrease in unlawful violence.

JAMA Authors Fail To Understand “Stand-Your-Ground” as Law

A second major error evident in the paper is the author’s apparent ignorance of Stand-Your-Ground as law. They helpfully provide a table listing 23 of the 50 American states has being “Stand-Your-Ground” states. By the only useful definition of Stand-Your-Ground, however—that is, that a defender has no legal duty to attempt a safe retreat before acting in self-defense—there are in fact 35 Stand-Your-Ground states. In fact, only 15 states impose a legal duty to retreat before acting in self-defense.

Further, the authors claim to use as a control a set of four American states that do generally impose a legal duty to retreat. In fact, only three of the chosen states generally impose such a legal duty. The fourth “control” state, Virginia, imposes a legal duty to retreat only if the defender “contributed to the affray”—in other words, only if the defender is not a genuinely innocent victim of a criminal attack. Every state in the country, however, requires that an aggressor in a fight must retreat from the confrontation before they can claim self-defense for their use of defensive force. The author’s choice of Virginia as a contrast to Florida thus exposes both their misunderstanding of Virginia law specifically and the legal constraints imposed on claiming self-defense broadly.

Hey, Where Did the Paper Go?

As I mentioned earlier, the paper is rife with additional errors, but I haven’t time to go through them all.

As a final observation, however, I note that this “science” paper was freely available in its full-text entirety in the days immediately following its publication, at no cost. That same link that led to the full-text paper, however, now provides only a summary and abstract of the paper. If you’d like to read the paper in its entirety, and don’t already have a qualifying subscription in place, you are now asked to pay $30 for the privilege of having access to the paper for a mere 24 hours.

Transparency: It’s what’s for breakfast.

–-Andrew

 


Andrew F. Branca is an attorney and the author of The Law of Self Defense, 3rd Edition.