Federal action sought on ‘stand your ground’ laws

A group of congressional Democrats pressed the Justice Department Tuesday to gather new data about the effects of so-called “stand your ground" laws on public safety.

Roughly two dozen states have adopted laws authorizing citizens to use deadly force if threatened, even if they could retreat instead.

The statutes have been the subject of intense debate since volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year, even though Zimmerman did not rely on Florida’s stand your ground law in his defense.

President Obama and Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderFBI director defends agency after Trump attacks: It's an 'honor to represent you' FBI agents fire back at Trump: Saying we're not dedicated is 'simply false' Holder hits back at Trump: The FBI’s reputation is not in 'tatters' MORE have called for reconsideration of the laws and whether they encourage violence.

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Echoing those concerns, seven lawmakers issued a letter to Holder Tuesday, asking him to direct the Justice Department to adjust the definition of the term “justifiable homicide” in order to capture all cases involving stand your ground laws.

The group is also seeking data on other variables of such killings, including their location, information about who in the altercation was armed, the kind of weapons used and reasons they were justified.

“We believe this information would prove extremely useful in helping to evaluate the laws that govern the use of lethal force and in quantifying the impact of such laws on public safety and civil rights,” the lawmakers wrote to Holder.

Signatories on the letter were Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats turn on Al Franken Minnesota's largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign Democratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday MORE (D-Ill.) and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats turn on Al Franken The Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (D-Hawaii), along with Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottOvernight Tech: Facebook vows to stop letting advertisers exclude by race | Watchdog study finds lack of diversity in tech | Agencies sued over tattoo recognition software Government study shows lack of diversity in tech Overnight Regulation: House passes bill to overturn joint-employer rule | Trump officials to allow work requirements for Medicaid | Lawmakers 'alarmed' by EPA's science board changes MORE (D-Va.) and Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeThe nearly 60 Dems who voted for impeachment House rejects Democrat's resolution to impeach Trump Dem plans to force House floor vote on impeaching Trump MORE (D-Ohio).

The lawmakers are also asking the Justice Department to sponsor research through the National Institute of Justice related to trends in justifiable homicides and state-by-state analyses of the impacts of different variations of "stand your ground" laws.

Durbin, citing existing research, said the laws have led to increased violence.

“But the federal government does not collect adequate data on these laws’ impact,” he said. “That must change.”

While the agency has authority to research the matter, the federal government is largely powerless to stop states from passing or enforcing the laws.