Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, along with Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) and Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones, on Thursday announced a task force of state legislators to combat “Shoot First” laws nationwide.

“It’s important to be clear; ‘Shoot First’ laws are not self defense, and repealing shoot first does not repeal our right to self defense,” said Monisha Henley, senior director for State Government Affairs at Everytown. “We have self defense laws in all fifty states that give us the right to protect ourselves.”

“Shoot First” laws, referred to by supporters as “stand-your-ground” laws, protect individuals’ right to use deadly force outside of the home, neglecting the duty to retreat in a situation in which they feel threatened. Advocates argue they improve public safety by allowing people to better defend themselves, while opponents say they give individuals permission to “shoot first and ask questions later.”

“Shoot first laws aren’t about standing your ground when threatened,” said Moms Demand Action Founder Shannon Watts. “They are about making murder legal.”

Thirty states have enacted “Shoot First” laws as of 2021, according to JAMA network. Florida became the first state to pass a law of this nature in 2005, with 23 other states following suit between 2006 and 2008. 

“Shoot First” laws were associated with an eight to 11 percent national increase in monthly rates of homicide and firearm homicides, according to the results of a study released by the JAMA network this month. RAND Corporation estimates that if every state enacted these laws, there would be around 718 more homicide deaths per year than there would be if no state had these laws.

“The evidence that is coming out of the research literature says that (the theory that ‘Shoot First’ laws enhance safety) is probably not true,” said Andrew Morral, senior behavioral scientist at RAND. 

The task force comprises more than 20 lawmakers from 19 different states, with more signing on every day, according to Henley. Members include Florida state Sen. Jones, Georgia state Sen. Tonya Anderson and Kansas state Rep. Jo Ella Hoye.

The group of legislators will highlight the impacts of “Shoot First” laws, serve as leading voices on the issues in their states and gather support from colleagues. They also plan to influence legislation in states outside of their own, starting with Hawaii, where the state legislature is moving to pass a “Shoot First” law.

“We must continue to work closely with our allies, and we must continue to work closely with every state legislative body to make it clear that we will not stand down,” said Jones, who has led efforts to repeal “Shoot First” laws in his state.

This month marks two years since Ahmaud Arbery’s killing and 10 years since Trayvon Martin’s killing. According to Watts, both instances were “enabled by ‘Shoot First’ laws.”

“These laws aren’t just deadly, they’re racist,” Watts said. “Homicides in which white people shoot and kill Black victims are deemed justifiable five times more often than when the situation is reversed.”

February also marks the birthday of Jordan Davis, Rep. McBath’s son, who was shot and killed in Florida in November 2012. While Florida was the first state to pass a “shoot first” law, Georgia, where McBath lives, soon followed. For her, “Shoot First” laws have professional and personal implications.

“When we’re discussing these laws, we must put ourselves in the shoes of those parents, in the shoes of those who have been affected most by the pain these laws bring,” McBath said. “Laws that make it easier to wield guns around our kids and our families do not help keep our children alive.” 

*Medill News Service reached out to several Republican lawmakers in Florida who oppose repealing “Shoot First,” but did not receive a response