State senators call for hearings into ‘Stand Your Ground’ law

Mar 20, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on March 20, 2012:

State senators call for hearings into “Stand Your Ground” law

By Travis Pillow

The mounting national outcry over the shooting of an unarmed black Central Florida teenager reached the state Capitol on Tuesday, with protesters packing Gov. Rick Scott’s office and several senators calling for hearings.

Democratic Sens. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale and Arthenia Joyner of Tampa said the shooting of Trayvon Martin has called attention to a 2005 law which they said needs to be changed.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, sent a letter to Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, asking for  legislative hearings into the “Stand Your Ground Law.” In the letter, Braynon said there should be an examination of how the law has been implemented by law enforcement and the courts.

“This law was never intended to be a blanket of protection for community vigilantes who think that they can bypass law enforcement instructions and shoot anyone they see fit,” the letter states. “It shouldn’t be that, if you feel intimidated by someone, you can pull a gun on someone and shoot them? That’s not the kind of law we need.”

Protesters across the state on Monday called for the arrest of George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch captain who says he shot the 17-year-old Martin on Feb. 26 in self-defense during a confrontation inside a Sanford gated community. Gun control advocates said the case is emblematic of permissive gun laws in Florida, which was among the first states to allow residents to carry concealed weapons. Florida was the first state to pass a Stand Your Ground law, which has been dubbed a “Shoot First” law by gun control advocates.

About half of all U.S. states have similar laws, said Brian Malte, legislative director of the Brady Campaign, which describes itself as the nation’s largest organization dedicated to the prevention of gun violence.

“Here a young life has been snuffed out because someone said that they had fear of great bodily harm,” said Joyner, who opposed the law when it was first proposed. “It’s so broad.”

The Stand Your Ground law’s legislative sponsor, Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley said it wasn’t written to give people the power to pursue and confront others.

“That’s not what this legislation does,” said Baxley, an Ocala Republican. “Unfortunately, every time there is an unfortunate incident involving a firearm, they think it’s about this law, and it’s not.”

On Monday night, Scott ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the case. Local prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Justice have also stepped in.

Scott greeted a crowd of protestors in his office Tuesday afternoon who were calling, among other things, for Zimmerman’s arrest and for Scott to appoint a panel to study issues such as racial profiling and the use of prosecutorial discretion by police. He told the protestors that he was monitoring the investigations.

“If there’s something wrong with the law that’s in place, I think it’s important that we address it,” he said.

Tallahassee defense lawyer Stephen Knight, who was among the protestors, said that while he viewed the law as problematic, it should be used as a defense at trial, not as a reason to avoid prosecuting Zimmerman.

“He should have been charged, and then the jury decide whether it really was stand your ground,” he said. “It’s for the jury to decide, not the police, and that’s the issue that we have here.”

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