Tags: stand | your | ground

Rhetoric Heats Up Over State 'Stand Your Ground' Laws

Saturday, 20 Jul 2013 09:36 AM

By Todd Beamon

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The debate over “stand your ground” laws in Florida and two dozen other states, simmering since last week's acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, could reach a boiling point this weekend.

A day before Saturday's scheduled nationwide rallies protesting the Zimmerman verdict and calling for the repeal of "stand your ground" laws, the president questioned their validity.

“It would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations,” Obama said in his first public comments on the Zimmerman verdict.

Editor’s Note: Should Obama Use Zimmerman Verdict to Ban Guns?

Obama’s comments automatically brought attacks from Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and other conservative groups, charging that the president’s suggestion amounted to an attack on Second Amendment gun-ownership rights.

“It is not surprising that the president uses, it seems, every opportunity that he can to go after our Second Amendment right to bear arms,” the Texas Republican told CNN after speaking at an event for the Iowa Republican Party. “This president and this administration have a consistent disregard for the Bill of Rights.”

The National Rifle Association agreed, condemning Attorney General Eric Holder’s call for closer scrutiny of the state laws in a speech to the NAACP earlier this week.

"The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept, it's a fundamental human right," NRA Executive Director Chris Cox said in a statement to The Hill. "To send a message that legitimate self-defense is to blame is unconscionable and demonstrates once again that this administration will exploit tragedies to push their political agenda."

Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin said on Friday that the Senate Judiciary Committee would hold a hearing in September to examine the laws.

"September’s hearing will examine the gun lobby’s and the American Legislative Exchange Council’s influence in creating and promoting these laws,” the Illinois Democrat said in a statement to the Hill.

The session also will examine “the way in which the laws have changed the legal definition of self-defense; the extent to which the laws have encouraged unnecessary shooting confrontations; and the civil rights implications when racial profiling and 'stand your ground' laws mix, along with other issues.”

Zimmerman, 29, who is Hispanic, was acquitted by a jury of six white women in Seminole County Circuit Court of the February 2012 shooting death of Martin, a 17-year-old African American who was unarmed, in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.

Public comments from one of the six jurors, citing Florida's Stand Your Ground law as a factor in reaching her conclusion that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, has stepped up pressure on the state's Republican-dominated legislature to repeal or change the law.

 

According to the instructions given to the jury, Zimmerman had "no duty to retreat and right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believed it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself."

Though the Stand Your Ground law was not specifically cited as part of the defense mounted by Zimmerman's lawyers, the jury instructions paving the way for his acquittal came directly from the 2005 statute.

Democratic leaders in Florida this week called for state officials to either repeal "stand your ground" or enact sweeping changes to avert more tragedies.

"This bill actually encourages people to shoot their way out of situations — and that's not how we live in a civilized society," Senate Democratic leader Chris Smith said. "It's a mentality that has permeated the state of Florida.

“It's a mentality of shoot first, and we should not have that in a civilized society."

Smith and Florida House Democratic leader Perry Thurston urged a special session of the Republican-controlled Legislature to overhaul the law or consider abolishing it.

But that is not likely to happen, Florida Gov. Rick Scott told protesters to his Tallahassee office this week.

"I believe 'stand your ground' should stay in the books," Scott told the protesters late Thursday. They had been staging a sit-in at the Capitol since Tuesday. "I agree with you, we should not have racial profiling."

Scott called for a statewide day of prayer for unity on Sunday and told the protesters that he had met with Martin's parents and introduced them to law-enforcement agents who investigated their son’s death, The Tampa Bay Times reports.

But the governor remained firm in not convening a special legislative session to consider possible changes to the “stand your ground” law.

Editor’s Note: Should Obama Use Zimmerman Verdict to Ban Guns?

Trayvon Martin's parents plan to participate in separate vigils organizes by Al Sharpton's National Action Network. The group is planning rallies in 100 cities to press for federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman and protest "stand your ground."

Martin's mother and her son, Sabrina and Jahvaris Fulton, will join Sharpton outside New York Police Department headquarters. Martin's father, Tracy Martin, is set to be at a similar event at a federal courthouse in Miami.

Sharpton says vigils will be followed by a conference next week in Miami to develop a plan to address Florida's "stand-your-ground" law.

The Associated Press and CNN also contributed to this report.

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