Effects of Laws Expanding Civilian Rights to Use Deadly Force in Self-Defense on Violence and Crime: A Systematic Review

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Effects of Laws Expanding Civilian Rights to Use Deadly Force in Self-Defense on Violence and Crime: A Systematic Review

Category: Crime, Defensive Gun Use, Firearm Policies, Injury, Stand Your Ground & Castle Doctrine|Journal: American Journal of Public Health (full text)|Author: A Parmar, A Yakubovich, B Lange, D Humphreys, D Wiebe, G Melendez-Torres, M Esposti|Year: 2021


Since 2005, most US states have expanded civilian rights to use deadly force in self-defense outside the home. In most cases, legislation has included removing the duty to retreat anywhere one may legally be, commonly known as stand-your-ground laws. The extent to which these laws affect public health and safety is widely debated in public and policy discourse.



To synthesize the available evidence on the impacts and social inequities associated with changing civilian rights to use deadly force in self-defense on violence, injury, crime, and firearm-related outcomes.


Search Methods

We searched MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, Scopus, Web of Science, Sociological Abstracts, National Criminal Justice Reference Service Abstracts, Education Resources Information Center, International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, Google Scholar, National Bureau of Economic Research working papers, and SocArXiv; harvested references of included studies; and consulted with experts to identify studies until April 2020.


Selection Criteria

Eligible studies quantitatively estimated the association between laws that expanded or restricted the right to use deadly force in self-defense and population or subgroup outcomes among civilians with a comparator.


Data Collection and Analysis

Two reviewers extracted study data using a common form. We assessed study quality using the Risk of Bias in Nonrandomized Studies of Interventions tools adapted for (controlled) before–after studies. To account for data dependencies, we conducted graphical syntheses (forest plots and harvest plots) to summarize the evidence on impacts and inequities associated with changing self-defense laws.


Main Results

We identified 25 studies that estimated population-level impacts of laws expanding civilian rights to use deadly force in self-defense, all of which focused on stand-your-ground or other expansions to self-defense laws in the United States. Studies were scored as having serious or critical risk of bias attributable to confounding. Risk of bias was low across most other domains (i.e., selection, missing data, outcome, and reporting biases). Stand-your-ground laws were associated with no change to small increases in violent crime (total and firearm homicide, aggravated assault, robbery) on average across states. Florida-based studies showed robust increases (24% to 45%) in firearm and total homicide while self-defense claims under stand-your-ground law were more often denied when victims were White, especially when claimants were racial minorities.


Author’s Conclusions

The existing evidence contradicts claims that expanding self-defense laws deters violent crime across the United States. In at least some contexts, including Florida, stand-your-ground laws are associated with increases in violence, and there are racial inequities in the application of these laws.


Public Health Implications

In some US states, most notably Florida, stand-your-ground laws may have harmed public health and safety and exacerbated social inequities. Our findings highlight the need for scientific evidence on both population and equity impacts of self-defense laws to guide legislative action that promotes public health and safety for all.


Trial Registration

Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/uz68e).

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