Guest Opinions

A way to ‘rationalize’ violence: Idaho would not be helped by ‘stand your ground’ laws

Idaho State Capitol in Boise.
Idaho State Capitol in Boise.

Idaho has a long history of responsible gun ownership, a history that I, a life-long Idahoan and state legislator, deeply respect. That said, I am very concerned about HB444 which presents “stand your ground” legislation.

Let’s be clear, stand your ground laws provide individuals a basis to excuse or rationalize the potential wounding or murder of another person. From my vantage point, these laws are extremely dangerous. These laws lay a foundation for an environment characterized by volatile and potentially tragic situations that could be averted by a call to law enforcement or other action rather than use of a deadly weapon.

Between 2005 and 2011, the gun lobby pushed hard for these laws across the country – and they passed in 22 states. The results have been unfortunate. Elected officials in Florida have stated that they would not have supported stand your ground legislation had they understood the potential negative impact. Research results confirm the difficulty in anticipating the unintended consequences of stand your ground laws.

Of note, in Florida, the number of justifiable homicides tripled after the state passed its stand your ground law. Nationwide, these laws account for an estimated 600 more homicides per year. Additionally, and of particular importance to me, these policies have been found, disproportionately, to put diverse populations at greater risk. Statistics indicate that when white shooters kill black victims, the resulting homicides are more often deemed justifiable by law enforcement — 11 times more frequently than when the shooter is black and the victim is white.

Further, there is no evidence that stand your ground laws deter crime. Law enforcement officials in Idaho have expressed concern for public safety. The legislation could conceivably justify killing an individual for attempting a felony. Stand your ground short circuits the system, sidestepping law enforcement and the judicial system.

I fear that the stand your ground laws engender a shoot-first mentality that makes it far too easy for everyday disputes to turn deadly. This is dangerous legislation that does not serve Idahoans well.

Buckner-Webb is a state senator representing Boise’s District 19.