After Shootings of Young People Spark Outrage, Gun Violence Experts Decry Self-defense Laws

by Shannon Larson
Boston Globe
April 21, 2023

The spate of recent shootings, all involving young people and innocent misunderstandings, have spurred a national outcry and put a spotlight on self-defense laws, which gun violence specialists criticize as ineffective and likely to cause undue harm, particularly to adolescents.

Once largely a symbol of privilege and status, gun ownership has become a way for men to prove their masculinity, said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “That has increased in this country,” he said.

During the pandemic, gun sales surged and rose disproportionately among those who had never owned a firearm before, Butts said. The extent to which people perceive gun ownership as a means of protecting themselves and their families has also increased sharply in recent years, he said.

That sentiment has coincided with an increase in “Stand Your Ground” laws, which allow people to defend themselves with lethal force if someone is attempting to break into a home or threaten those inside. According to Butts, “Stand Your Ground” laws are “associated with an increase in homicides” along with a “notable increase in adolescent killings.” “We know a state that passes ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws is voting to increase the number of people killed by guns, especially young people, especially young people of color,” he said.

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People gathered at a rally to support Ralph Yarl, a Black teenager was shot last week by an 84-year-old white homeowner in Kansas City, Mo., when he mistakenly went to the wrong address to pick up his younger brothers. CHARLIE RIEDEL / ASSOCIATED PRESS