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Preliminary data on Stand Your Ground law remains murky

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll has repeatedly said that the task force commissioned to look into Florida's controversial stand your ground law will make its decision based on facts, not emotions.

Carroll and 18 other task force members learned Wednesday that those facts—like many Stand Your Ground cases—are incredibly difficult to pin down.

A University of Florida professor presented a slew of data on crime and tourism since the 2005 passing of the Stand Your Ground law, but ultimately concluded that no definitive connections could be made at this time.

“The data the we collected in response to the task force request is insufficient to provide a conclusion on this issue,” said Professor Monique Haughton Worrell, of UF’s College of Law. “It’s a complex issue, requiring complex analysis.”

Worrell told task force members meeting in West Palm Beach that a more in-depth study would be needed before the university could determine a connection between Stand Your Ground and crime rates, gun ownership rates or tourism in Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott commissioned the task force in the wake of the February shooting death of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin, which thrust the state’s controversial gun laws into a national spotlight.

The 17-year-old was shot by a Sanford neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, who claims that he was acting in self-defense. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder several weeks after the shooting, after nationwide protests and the appointment of a special prosecutor.

The University of Florida preliminary report found that in the seven years since the law was passed:  

  • Homicides have increased,
  • Violent crime has continued to decrease
  • Tourism has increased, continuing a trend that began in 1998
  • Applications for gun permits have tripled

But there was a strong caution not to read much into those raw numbers. For example, crime had already been on the decline nationwide prior to 2005, and several other factors impact the crime rate, other than Stand Your Ground (unemployment, law enforcement changes etc.).

At one point, the hearing got testy, with a Miami criminal defense lawyer—and ardent defender of the Stand Your Ground law—challenged Worrell:

”You don’t give much do you,” said Mark Seiden after Worrell rejected his correlation-is-causation inference that tourism increased after Stand Your Ground was passed. “Let me ask you one question, do you personally favor or disfavor the Stand Your Ground law?”

Several task force members objected to Seiden’s question and tone, and Carroll told the task force not to “shoot the messenger.”

Worrell said it would take at least 6 months to collect a data and complete a detailed analysis and report.