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No Trace Of Truth | The American Bar Association Vs. Stand Your Ground

No Trace Of Truth | The American Bar Association Vs. Stand Your Ground

Photo credit: Sipa via AP Images

In this column, A1F Daily trains its watchdog eye on “The Trace,” Michael Bloomberg’s new anti-“gun news” site.

On Thursday, Sept. 17, The Trace wrote that the American Bar Association (ABA) was to release a report this week calling for repeal of Stand Your Ground Laws (SYG). 

This is not really news: The Trace tells us that the ABA report, “an advance copy of which was provided to The Trace,” (which should tell you something), “largely echoes a preliminary version released last year,” (which should tell you even more). Releasing a final version of a preliminary report is a shopworn tactic to try to keep old “news” in the public eye. This is the equivalent of inviting the front row of a Justin Bieber concert backstage to ask them who their favorite pop star is, then using the results to claim Bieber is bigger than Elvis.

There is plenty in the ABA’s previous report that deserves a closer look—as does the ABA itself. Let’s look at some of conclusions the task force reached in the executive summary:

“Stand Your Ground states experienced an increase in homicides.” This is troubling, as the FBI’s uniform crime statistics have documented a steady decline in homicides nationwide every year since the mid-1990s. Since 33 states have passed some form of these laws, which states could the ABA be talking about? 

“Multiple states have attempted to repeal or amend Stand Your Ground laws.” So the ABA cites the failure of anti-gun forces to amend or repeal these statutes as evidence of … what, exactly? A lack of proof that they are unfair, perhaps?

“An individual’s right to self-defense was sufficiently protected prior to Stand Your Ground laws.” If that’s true, then why did those 33 states feel the need to pass SYG? The answer is, because the requirement to retreat was being abused by some prosecutors unsympathetic to the right to self-defense—prosecutors who felt qualified to second-guess crime victims from the comfort of their courthouse offices. They were flouting the U.S. Supreme Court, who held in 1921’s Brown v. United States, “that if a man reasonably believes that he is in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily harm from his assailant he may stand his ground and that if he kills him he has not exceeded the bounds of lawful self-defense.” In that opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife. Therefore, in this Court, at least, it is not a condition of immunity that one in that situation should pause to consider wither a reasonable man might not think it possible to fly with safety or to disable his assailant rather than to kill him.”

How did the ABA arrive at these conclusions? Notice that The Trace calls this a “news report,” not a study, and with good reason: The ABA’s “findings” are based on a series of five regional hearings that its National Task Force conducted between February and October of 2013. At those hearings, almost without exception, the ABA invited like-minded testimony that backed up their well-publicized opposition to SYG. This is the equivalent of inviting the front row of a Justin Bieber concert backstage to ask them who their favorite pop star is, then using the results to claim Bieber is bigger than Elvis.

This revised version of the report altered the earlier version’s accounting of a Tampa Bay Times study that claims to have uncovered racial disparities in the application of SYG. The original report included a number of relevant facts that the new report either minimized or deleted:

  1. The majority of SYG cases are non-deadly cases: “The majority of cases that utilized the stand-your-ground defense involved exercises of non-deadly force in self-defense, and therefore did not involve gun violence.” 
  2. Sixty percent of the defendants had arrest records, and one-third had been previously accused of violent crimes. It should come as no surprise that violent criminals would attempt to use SYG to beat the rap, or that the majority of SYG cases will arise among communities where crime is more prevalent. 
  3. The Times admitted that the sample size is very small—just 235 cases since 2005, or about 26 total cases a year. The Times’ own investigative reporter, Chris Davis, cautioned the task force that “although informative, (the study) is not conclusive, and thus its readers should not draw too many conclusions from it.” Interestingly, this quote is missing completely in the new, edited report.

That’s probably because it would have prevented the ABA from drawing too many conclusions, which they did anyway. That leads us to look past this report and examine the ABA itself for traces of bias. We had to look no further than the group’s website to find that the ABA supports gun control in all its forms. We found ABA policy statements that: 

  • Oppose limiting the rights of physicians to ask their patients if they own guns or how they store them, or counsel them about the dangers of guns in the home; 
  • Support giving authorities “broad discretion” in issuing concealed-carry permits;
  • Oppose Right-to-Carry reciprocity; 
  • Endorse federal “ballistic fingerprinting” mandates;
  • Support banning guns from the workplace and parking lots;
  • Support a ban on .50-caliber firearms;
  • Oppose the Lawful Protection of Commerce in Arms Act;
  • Would require federal licensing of firearms and/or ammunition;
  • Support regulation of firearms as “consumer products” (as if they aren’t already);
  • Support federal licensing and registration of all handguns; and
  • Support a ban on ‘assault weapons’

… as well as supporting the penalizing of gun owners whose guns are stolen, supporting controlling handgun possession, and backing “sporting purposes” requirements and other similar measures dating back to 1965.

The ABA has a well-documented liberal bias on other subjects besides gun rights. The Wall Street Journal, the Federalist Society and others have criticized the ABA’s ideological bias in rating presidential judicial nominees, pointing out how conservative candidates consistently receive lower rankings than liberal ones who are equally, or even less, qualified. Even The New York Times, which calls the ABA a “private trade association,” has written that the ABA “takes public and generally liberal positions on all sorts of divisive issues.”

In other words, the ABA is a liberally biased organization trying to pass its data off as impartial science. Is it any wonder, then, that the organization has a special relationship with The Trace?

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