By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
ST. PETERSBURG — After a failed state task force and dwindling public support, South Florida Democrats are proposing their own changes to the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, introducing a bill placing narrow constraints on how people justify shootings against would-be attackers and home invaders.
The bill, introduced by state Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, last week, would modify the law to require an “overt act” to support the use of deadly force.
It is co-sponsored by fellow state Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, and state Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami.
The current “Stand Your Ground” law, originally introduced in 2005 by state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, allows people to legally “meet force with force” in the event they reasonably believe to be in physical danger, granting them criminal and civil immunity.
The law was drafted in response to mass looting and home invasions during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, but received considerable attention in the tragic shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
The shooting caused uproar over the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, precipitating Gov. Rick Scott‘s Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, which convened over a period of six months to address potential changes to the law.
The task force offered minor recommendations, but not enough to please activists who flooded the state to attend rallies in memory of the slain teenager.
Stafford, the Democrat who wishes to change the law, appeared alongside two civil rights heavyweights — the Revs. Jesse Jacksonand Al Sharpton — at the largest Trayvon Martin rally on May 1 in Miami.
But despite the protests and calls for action, the original author of the bill acknowledged Zimmerman stood no chance of avoiding charges.
Baxley addressed the shooting in a Fox News op-ed, explaining the law would not grant a legal defense to Zimmerman in this specific case.
“I’d like to clarify that this law does not seem to be applicable to the tragedy that happened in Sanford,” wrote Baxley. “There is nothing in the castle doctrine as found in Florida statutes that authenticates or provides for the opportunity to pursue and confront individuals, it simply protects those who would be potential victims by allowing for force to be used in self-defense.”
Stafford could not be reached for comment.
Steady support for ‘Stand Your Ground’
A Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll from July 2012 reveals that nearly 65 of Floridians believe the law should stay as is.
The poll of 800 Florida residents taken July 9-11, 2012, also shows that more than 82 percent believe Zimmerman was acting in self-defense when he shot Martin.
The survey has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.
In terms of legal definitions, ‘Stand Your Ground’ enshrines a principle known as the ‘castle doctrine,’ recognizing a person’s home or property as something they are entitled to protect with deadly force.
Legal scholars have questioned whether such a law is even necessary, considering the giant body of common law already on the books.
“These laws address a problem that does not exist,” writes constitutional attorneyand George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. “There are ample protections under the common law for individuals to use the privilege of self-defense, including reasonable mistaken self-defense.”
But despite the legal ramifications, the Democrat’s bill is unlikely to get through the Republican-led Florida House and Senate.
“All laws certainly should be looked at, but I don’t plan to vote for any repeal of ‘Stand Your Ground’ or any weakening of the Second Amendment,” Florida Senate President Don Gaetz told Sunshine State News on Wednesday.
House Speaker Will Weatherford offered a similar reply at the conclusion of the governor’s task force in November.
“What we won’t do is use that tragedy as an excuse to water down people’s ability to defend themselves in Florida,” said Weatherford.