More Deeply Flawed “Stand Your Ground” Research from JAMA

It seems that Dr. David K. Humphreys was never taught the first rule of finding yourself in a hole:  stop digging.  Dr. Humphreys has chosen to follow up his deeply flawed November 2016 “science” paper in the Journal of the American Association: Internal Medicine on Florida’s “Stand-Your-Ground” law by publishing a response to criticism of that paper in the form of a “Research Letter” just published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The “Research Letter” is behind a firewall, but can be purchased/rented for $30 if anyone is interested.  I caution that it’s only about a page-and-a-paragraph in length, however, and interestingly enough JAMA Internal Medicine makes the whole first page plainly accessible by clicking here, so I’m not sure the last paragraph is worth the extra $30.  But it’s your money.

You may recall that I previously critiqued Humphreys’ November 2016 “Stand-Your-Ground” “science” paper published last November, “Evaluating the Impact of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Self-defense Law on Homicide and Suicide by Firearm,” (pay-walled), in a piece I wrote at National Review, “What to Make of the New Study of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law” (free).

The gist of my criticism is accurately recounted by Humphreys in his purportedly responsive “Research Letter”:

Results from our study of the influence of Florida’s “Stand Your Groundself-defense law on homicide and suicide by firearm1 have been questioned for not distinguishing between “unlawful” homicide (ie, murder) and “justifiable” homicide (ie, lawful use of lethal force).2,3

Readers have suggested that if the increase in homicide rates resulted from an increase in homicides that were justifiable, the law may be working as intended. We investigated this possibility by acquiring additional data and conducting new analyses.

In fact, nowhere in Dr. Humphrey’s “Research Letter” does he cite any actual “additional data” that supports any such “new analysis.”

As an interesting aside, footnote [2] cited above is purportedly a reference to a previous post I had published in National Review on Dr. Humphrey’s earlier deeply flawed “Stand-Your-Ground” paper.

  1. Branca A. What to make of the new study of Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Natl Rev. Published November 16, 2016. Accessed June 26, 2017.

It is notable however, that even the simple act of accurately citing others’ work apparently falls outside of Dr. Humphreys’ capabilities. The link Dr. Humphreys’ provides in footnote [2] is not to my post on National Review of the indicated title, but to a favorable third-party review of my post: “More JAMA Flim-Flam: Flawed Study Takes Aim at “Stand Your Ground.”


In the very next paragraph, entitled “Methods,” Dr. Humphreys writes:

We obtained monthly counts of justifiable homicides, broadly defined as the killing of an assailant or intruder, during the commission of a criminal act, by a civilian, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.4,5

No kidding: the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Impressive.

Upon further examination, however, we find this claim to be misleading at best and outright false at worst. Specifically, footnotes [4] and [5] do not reference the Florida Department of Law Enforcement at all, but rather reference the FBI and the Violence Policy Center:

4. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice; 2004.

5. Violence Policy Center. Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-defense Gun Use: An Analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Crime Victimisation Survey Data. Washington, DC: Violence Policy Center; 2015. Accessed July 26, 2016.

So, no actual reference to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, much as the footnote referencing my National Review piece didn’t actually link to my National Review piece.


Let’s continue by taking a closer look at the second of those two footnotes. Footnote [5] cites a research report from the Violence Policy Center.  Is this an unbiased source of data on this subject? Hardly. This outfit is a well-known anti-Second Amendment organization, with an explicit anti-“gun violence” bias, that advocates for increased restrictions on the ownership of firearms by law-abiding Americans and against the very Stand-Your-Ground policy under “study” by Dr. Humphreys. Yet Dr. Humphreys shares none of this relevant context with us.


Furthermore, although this is the only cited data source in Dr. Humphrey’s entire “Research Letter,” the Violence Policy Center does not produce it’s own crime statistics data. Rather, the cited report merely repackages the actual crime data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. But the primary-source FBI UCR is itself readily and publicly accessible via their web site, with preliminary data through the first half of 2016, whereas the secondary-source Violence Policy Center study reports on data only through 2012. Why would Dr. Humphrey link to an interpretation of the UCR data from a biased secondary source limited to 2012 rather than make use of the primary UCR data itself through 2016?


Even if we were to pretend that the Violence Prevention Center study’s data was unbiased and valid, we discover something remarkable when we look to the Florida justifiable homicide data—the very subject of Dr. Humphreys’ research–provided in that report: there isn’t any. Literally.

When one looks at “TABLE ONE: FIREARM JUSTIFIABLE HOMICIDES BY STATE, 2008-2012” found on page 8 of the report, we see the states listed vertically and beside each state are columns listing the purported justified homicides for each state for the years 2008 to 2012 in a series of columns.

For the state of Florida, every column—all of them—is labeled “N/A.”

Further, footnote five in the Violence Prevention Center report states: “5 The state of Florida did not submit any data to the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) for the years 2008 through 2012,” the span of years covered by the report. So, the only cited source of even secondary data for Dr. Humphreys’ newest Florida justifiable homicide data analysis for this “Research Letter” literally contains no Florida justifiable homicide data. None.


I would also note in passing that even if the Violence Prevention Center’s report did have data for Florida homicides, which it does not, the report covers only the period from 2008 through 2012, and thus would be useless in any analysis that purports to compare pre-2005 homicides with post-2005 homicides.


Let’s now take a look at footnote [4], or more particularly the citation to the FBI UCR Handbook. Note that title carefully: FBI UCR Handbook. This is not the actual data-containing FBI Uniform Crime Report. Rather, this is the handbook intended to guide police departments in correctly gathering and reporting crime data to the FBI UCR. It is literally a procedural instructional manual.

There is not a single piece of crime data contained in the referenced document. As a result, as was the case with the Violence Policy Center report, it could not possibly have been the source for any of the purported data used in Dr. Humphreys purported statistical analysis. So why is it cited? Perhaps because it provides the working definition of justifiable homicide used by the FBI UCR.

Sure enough, when we look at pages 17-18 of the FBI UCR Handbook (2004) we find a discussion of what constitutes justifiable and non-justifiable homicide. Specifically, the Handbook provides a helpful illustration of a scenario that it says should not be reported as a justifiable homicide:

“The following scenario illustrates an incident known to law enforcement that reporting agencies would not consider Justifiable Homicide:

  1. While playing cards, two men got into an argument. The first man attacked the second with a broken bottle. The second man pulled a gun and killed his attacker. The police arrested the shooter; he claimed self-defense.”

With all respect to the FBI, this is simply mistaken. If you are having a mere verbal argument with somebody, and they decide to escalate matters to the point of attacking you with a broken bottle, they have become a deadly force aggressor against whom you would be lawfully entitled to use deadly-force in self-defense—including shooting and killing that attacker. Contrary to what the UCR states, this scenario would constitute a justifiable homicide, and it would do so in every state in the country.

In other words, the FBI UCR Handbook of 2004 apparently does not understand what does and does not constitute a justifiable homicide, and thus the data gathered on justifiable homicide using this handbook as the procedural standard is necessarily worthless.  By extension, to the extent Dr. Humphreys relied on this mistaken definition of justifiable homicide, he also does not understand what does and does not constitute a justifiable homicide, and thus his analysis based on data gathered using the FBI UCR Handbook definition is patently worthless.

Even if we set aside that profound misunderstanding of what constitutes justifiable homicide, however, there is another inherent characteristic of the FBI UCR that makes it almost useless for assessing justifiable homicides. That is the fact that the UCR is, as the name suggests, based on crime reports, and not on any final determination of whether a homicide was justified or not. This is a difference that matters, if reality matters at all, especially in the context of justifiable homicide.

Just because a police officer at a homicide scene believed that a use-of-force may not have been justified doesn’t mean that’s the final word on the matter. Indeed, it is very common for a defendant charged with a crime of violence—and thus by definition perceived by the arresting officer as having acted unlawfully—to later have the charges against him dropped by prosecutors, or to be acquitted at trial, precisely on the basis of lawful justification. In other words, the officer’s crime report of non-justifiable homicide was ultimately determined to be mistaken.

To illustrate: If I am attacked by a man in a parking lot, and I shoot and kill him, it’s very likely that I’m going to be arrested by police when they arrive in response to my 911 call, regardless of the merits of my self-defense claim. Many departments do this as simple policy, and so as not to task their officers with making a final legal determination of self-defense at the scene.   There’s been a shooting, I concede it was me who did the shooting, that’s probable cause for an arrest—let the lawyers handle the self-defense issues at their leisure, is how the thinking goes.

In my hypothetical case, sure enough, when the prosecutors look at the investigative report it seems a plain case of lawful self-defense, and the charges against me are dropped. Or, if I’m unlucky, I’m compelled to go to trial and get acquitted. In both of those cases, the final determination of my killing of that other person is that it was a justifiable homicide. How does the UCR reflect that final adjudication? It doesn’t. It goes by the initial crime report, and thus my use-of-force is incorrectly recorded by the UCR as an unjustified killing.

That’s not even considering whether a typical patrol officer tasked with the decision of making an arrest has the training and expertise to make a legal determination of lawful self-defense in the immediate aftermath of a use-of-force event and before the totality of the circumstances and evidence are likely to be known.

This challenge of relying on such sourcing of data as determinative was noted by the British economist Sir Josiah Stamp, in an observation that has since become known as “Stamp’s Law”:

The government are very keen on amassing statistics. They collect them, add them, raise them to the nth power, take the cube root and prepare wonderful diagrams. But you must never forget that every one of these figures comes in the first instance from the village watchman, who just puts down what he damn pleases.

Further, the FBI UCR data on homicides in Florida in particular is deeply defective for the years relevant to Dr. Humphreys’ “research.” Even beyond the utter absence of relevant data for Florida from 2008 to 2012, as already discussed above, economists out of George Mason University have found that Florida homicide data reporting to the UCR was either entirely unavailable or severely underreported from 1996 to 2005—in other words, for the full tens years of the pre-SYG period being compared by Dr. Humphreys to the post-SYG period.


One wonders exactly what kind of peer review JAMA Internal Medicine conducted on this “Research Letter,” that a small-town lawyer in Colorado could so readily expose the deep flaws present in Dr. Humphrey’s research.

For shame, JAMA.

LI: Officer shot Terence Crutcher: “if he would’ve just done as I asked him”

Just posted over at Legal Insurrection:

Back in September 2016 Terence Crutcher — a quite large black man — was shot and killed by white police officer Betty Shelby in Tulsa OK.

I covered the case evidence in a prior post, Legal Game Changer: Terence Crutcher had “High Levels” of PCP when shot by OK police. Included in that post is an extensive discussion of the history and legal significance of a suspect not obeying instructions and returning to his vehicle.

Shelby has since been charged with manslaughter, and last night she appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes television show. (Video here, not embed possible). The segment was hosted by correspondent Bill Whitaker.

At the time of the shooting Crutcher was acting in a bizarre manner, wandering down the road in the dark after having apparently left his vehicle unattended and running in the middle of the roadway (across the two lanes of traffic). Shelby initially drove past Crutcher on her way to a domestic violence call, but stopped when she encountered the abandoned car. (Because her siren was not on, her dash camera was not recording.)

Click here to read the whole thing.

“Popcorn Shooting” Defendant Has Self-Defense Immunity Hearing

My most recent contribution over at Legal Insurrection, this one on this week’s self-defense immunity hearing taking place in the Curtis Reeves prosecution.  Reeves is elderly retired police officer shot and killed 43-year-old Chad Oulsen in a movie theater after the two argued over Oulsen’s texting during previews, and the conflict escalated to physical violence.

Here’s a taste:

It was three years ago last month that retired police officer Curtis Reeves, then 71 years old, shot and killed 43-year-old Chad Oulsen in a Florida movie theater. The case became known as the “popcorn shooting” because the shooting allegedly happened over spilled popcorn.

Reeves has been charged with second degree murder and aggravated battery. He has pleaded not guilty to both charges and raised the legal defense of self-defense.

As usual, the media has been slathering the phrase “Stand-Your-Ground” all over this case, when in fact the case has nothing to do whatever with “Stand-Your-Ground” or any legal issues of retreat. What is relevant to this case, however, as it is to pretty much any self-defense case in Florida, is self-defense immunity.

Yesterday was the first day of Reeves’ self-defense immunity hearing, taking place in a Pasco County courthouse, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Before we do so, however, it’s important to understand just what that hearing involves, and what it doesn’t involve, in order to avoid unnecessary confusion of the legal issues in play.

Click here to read the whole thing.

WOW! Just exceeded 7,000 followers on Twitter

Well, that’s something, I guess. I just received a notification from Twitter that I’ve exceeded 7,000–that’s SEVEN THOUSAND–followers.

The remarkable thing is that I haven’t even BEEN on Twitter much since they shadow-banned me some months ago.

Well, I guess if it helps me get the word out, it’s a good thing. 🙂

For those who don’t know, my Twitter handle is @LawSelfDefense.

Twitter: @LawSelfDefense
Facebook: LawofSelfDefense

Andrew in National Review: “What to Make of the New Study of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law”

Hey folks,

Look at that, I got published in National Review!

My post there is a take-down on a piece of faux “science” published by JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) on the subject of Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law.:

“What to Make of the New Study of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law”

You can read the whole thing over at National Review by clicking the title above or by clicking here.

Thanks to National Review for the opportunity, it’s been great fun!

LI: Terence Crutcher “High Levels” PCP Shot by Police

From my post over at Legal Insurrection:

It appears that another negative narrative about a police shooting of a black suspect is about to go down in flames. This particular case involves the shooting death of suspect Terence Crutcher by Oklahoma police officer Betty Jo Shelby.

The racial narrative in the shooting death of Crutcher appears to have taken a fatal blow with the news yesterday, as reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, that the coroner in the case has determined the Crutcher “had a high level of the drug PCP in his body” at the time of his death (emphasis added).

This finding essentially puts the finishing bow on Officer Shelby’s narrative of a lawful use of deadly force, which was already consistent with all available evidence. It also puts a spotlight on the local prosecutor’s shameful and patently politically-motivated decision to charge Shelby with manslaughter in Crutcher’s death even before the coroner’s findings had been released.

It is worthwhile here to recap Shelby’s narrative of the events surrounding the shooting of Crutcher (drawn primarily from this ABC news story). Naturally, none of us were there, Shelby’s recounting of events is only one side of the story, and it is subject to disproof by incriminating evidence (if any can be found).

To read the whole thing click here.


Greg Ellifritz Says Nice Things About “Law of Self Defense”

Very kind review of “The Law of Self Defense, 3rd Edition” by Greg Ellifritz at Active Response Training:

“I don’t know how I can give it a more glowing recommendation except to say that I have been teaching use of force law to police officers for more than 15 years. I can’t tell you how many hours of legal update training I’ve taken in my career. Despite all my legal teaching qualifications and knowledge, I was amazed at the facts learned when I read the book. I learned a lot. The average gun owner without a legal background will learn exponentially more.”

There’s more along those lines if you click here.