We explore the impact of the Stand Your Ground (SYG) law on gun deaths by degree of urbanization. Unlike firearm homicides the definition of firearm deaths does not depend on the broadening of the self-defense provision that the SYG law represents. Using a difference-in-difference design, we find that the SYG law had no impact on gun deaths at the state level. However, once the U.S. states are disaggregated into portions by degree of urbanization—central city, suburb, small urban area and rural area—we find that the law increased gun deaths in the central cities and the suburbs, and had no impact in smaller urban areas and rural areas. These findings are consistent with the fact that there is a great divide between urban and rural areas in terms of ownership and usage of guns, attitudes towards guns, and the implications thereof. The finding of increased violence in the suburbs is of particular interest in the historical backdrop whereby the growth of the suburbs, to a large extent, may have been motivated by a desire to escape crime and violence.
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USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/02/27/guns-ingrained-in-rural-existence/1949479, last accessed: March 2016). The 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center finds that the percent of households owning guns in urban, suburban and rural areas are 28, 36 and 59%, respectively (http://www.people-press.org/2013/03/12/section-3-gun-ownership-trends-and-demographics, last accessed: March 2016).
Between 2005 and 2010, in 75% of the burglaries, firearms and at least one other item were stolen, but in only 23% of the burglaries in urban households was a firearm stolen (Langton 2012). Cook et al. (2015) studied guns in Chicago and found that while there is not a single gun store within the city limits there is one gun store nearby which is the largest single source of Chicago crime guns. Cook et al. (2015) surveyed inmates of Cook County jail and found that about 60% of the guns in their possession were purchased or traded. Cook et al. (2015) also find that people with a firearm owners identification (FOID) card would supply guns to others; in fact they quote one of the inmates, “All they need is one person who got a gun card in the ‘hood’ and everybody got one”.
McClellan and Tekin (2012), in an NBER working paper, uses data for the period 2000-2009 to examine how SYG laws affect homicides and firearm injuries. Specifically, they find that between 28 and 33 additional white males were killed each month as a result of these laws, accounting for about 8–9% of all white male murder victims. No such evidence is found for black males. Additionally, they show that emergency room visits and hospitalizations also increased.
All our variables, outcomes as well as covariates, are at the county level. For each state, we aggregate these county-level variables to arrive at central city, suburb, smaller urban area and rural portions of the state by assigning each county to these categories according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) 2013 urban–rural classification scheme.
See https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/images/ShootFirst_v4.pdf (last accessed: March 2016).
http://johnrlott.blogspot.com/2012/04/reasons-not-to-rely-on-fbis-justifiable.html (last accessed: March 2016).
Cheng and Hoekstra (2013) recognize the problems with the justifiable homicide data but they use them to determine how much of the increase in criminal homicides can be attributed to misclassification issues.
Since the Trayvon Martin case, a number of other cases received significant media and public attention where these recent changes in self-defense provisions came to the forefront of public debate. For example: the Jordan Russell Davis case in Jacksonville, Florida (http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/28/15513847-florida-man-pleads-not-guilty-to-shooting-teen-to-death-over-loud-music?lite), the Joe Horn case in Pasadena, Texas (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/13/us/13texas.html), the Daniel Adkins case in Laveen, Arizona (http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/29/us/stand-your-ground/index.html), and the Renisha McBride case in Dearborn Heights, Michigan (http://online.wsj.com/articles/detroit-area-man-convicted-of-second-degree-murder-in-porch-shooting-case-1407438587).
Most U.S. states have castle doctrine laws including states such as California, Illinois, Iowa, Oregon, and Washington that do not have the SYG law.
See http://www.gallup.com/poll/1645/guns.aspx. Last accessed: March 2016.
Congressional Research Service https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32842.pdf. Also see The Washington Post report at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/05/guns-in-the-united-states-one-for-every-man-woman-and-child-and-then-some/. Last accessed: March 2016.
Gallop 2011: http://www.gallup.com/poll/150464/americans-believe-crime-worsening.aspx. Last accessed: March 2016.
See commentary in The Daily Beast (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/21/poverty-and-growth-retro-urbanists-cling-to-the-myth-of-suburban-decline.html, last accessed May 2016).
See New York Time: http://ideas.time.com/2013/07/31/the-end-of-the-suburbs/, The Wall Street Journal http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304830704577493032619987956, last accessed May 2016.
See http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data_access/urban_rural.htm#urbancountries2013. Last accessed: March 2016.
The rationale is that residents of suburban metro areas fare substantially better in many health measures than residents of other urbanization levels. There are a number of additional considerations that also make this bifurcation interesting.
It is important to contrast this finding with those in Cheng and Hoekstra (2013) whose outcome variable is gun homicides. Other differences between Cheng and Hoekstra (2013) and our estimates are that the set of control variables are not exactly the same and we have a longer follow-up period: we cover the period 1999-2013 as opposed to 2000-2010 which is the coverage in Cheng and Hoekstra (2013). Note, however, that we have also run our specification for the Cheng and Hoekstra (2013) time period and the finding is the same as that in our main specification in Table 2.
Impacts of the racial compositions in the rural and the small urban areas, with a naïve interpretation, seem curious. In rural areas, increased proportion of either whites or blacks (compared to Asians and Hispanics) seems to increase gun deaths (Table 5). In the small urban areas (Table 6), increased proportion of Blacks still increases gun deaths whereas the effect of the proportion of Whites is the opposite. However, it is important to note that, given the small magnitudes of Asians and Hispanics in many of the rural and small urban locations, we do not believe that these coefficients necessarily have such direct interpretations. They do serve as important controls in our estimates (perhaps capturing dimensions of poverty beyond simple poverty rates—e.g., issues of envy and equity—or, social cohesion and other cultural aspects of the location, and so on). However, to accurately estimate the impacts of the racial compositions per se in these kinds of smaller locations, one would require more disaggregated and detailed analysis that can explore at least some, if not every, nooks and crannies of the immensely complex issue that is race.
We collected information on Commuting Zones from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS). It defines the year 2000 commuting zones in terms of counties. We then matched these commuting zones with our urbanization classification. A commuting zone can include counties of all 4 types (central city, suburb, small urban and rural). We carried out the following analysis for 2010. We identified a commuting zone as a central city commuting zone if the central city share of the population is the largest, a suburban commuting zone if the suburban share of the population is the largest, and a small-urban-area/rural commuting zone if the small-urban-area/rural share of the population is the largest. We find that, for the central city commuting zones, 65% of the population belongs to the central city location, for suburban commuting zones, 70% of the population belongs to the suburban location and for a small-urban-area/rural commuting zone, 99% of the population belong to the small-urban-area/rural location. Importantly, if we combine central cities and suburbs, we find that 90% of the population is contained within this commuting zone.
It is often anecdotally noted that some cities (Chicago, New York or Washington, DC, for example) have stricter guns laws than other places but still have high rates of reported gun use and deaths.
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During the formative stage of this paper, we benefited a great deal from the comments and suggestions of Mouhcine Guettabi (University of Alaska—Anchorage). Of course, all the mistakes belong to the authors alone.
Abdul Munasib: This research was done when Abdul Munasib was a Research Scientist in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Georgia, Griffin, GA.
Appendix 1: State-level Stand Your Ground laws across U.S. states
Appendix 2: Difference-in-difference estimate of the impact of the SYG law on net gun deaths—alternative geographical aggregation and alternative definition of the dependent variable
|Dependent variable = net gun-deaths − accidental gun-deaths||Dependent variable = net gun-deaths|
|Central cities||Suburbs||Smaller urban areas||Rural areas||Central cities and suburbs combined|
|Net gun deaths per 100,000||Log net gun deaths per 100,000||Net gun deaths per 100,000||Net gun deaths per 100,000||Log net gun deaths per 100,000||Net gun deaths per 100,000||Log net gun deaths per 100,000||Net gun deaths per 100,000||Log net gun deaths per 100,000|
|SYG law||0.506**||0.096***||0.250*||− 0.041||− 0.005||0.121||0.051||0.302*||0.051**|
|Other covariates as in column 2, Table 3||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Number of units||31||31||37||49||49||47||47||38||38|
|Number of obs.||465||465||555||735||735||705||705||570||570|
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Munasib, A., Kostandini, G. & Jordan, J.L. Impact of the Stand Your Ground law on gun deaths: evidence of a rural urban dichotomy. Eur J Law Econ 45, 527–554 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10657-018-9581-z
- Gun death
- Stand Your Ground law