Florida’s “stand your ground” law continues to be debated across the country following the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman.
Florida’s law was the first of its kind in the nation, and many other states have followed in the years since. The stand your ground law states people have the right to use deadly force to defend themselves when in fear of “imminent peril of death or great bodily harm…”
While delivering a speech this week at the NAACP Convention in Orlando, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged attendees to take a stand against stand your ground-style laws.
But other lawmakers say they feel instead of changing the law, the nation needs to promote a less violent society.
Jimmie Smith, Republican state representative in Citrus and part of Hernando counties, said legislators want people to be able to defend themselves.
“The stand your ground law gives you the right to not have to flee a situation. So if somebody breaks into your home, you do not have to run. If somebody tries to take your car, you can stand and defend yourself,” said Smith.
Although Smith is not surprised some would like the government to reevaluate these laws, he hopes they will remain unchanged. Dennis Baxley, Republican state representative from Ocala, co-authored Florida’s law in 2005. Baxley said the law has become a political football that has put the U.S. attorney general under a great deal of pressure to do something.
“I’m very disturbed by the fact that we are playing that as a race discussion when this is truly about respect for human life and what will keep our people safe,” said Baxley.
Baxley said he wouldn’t be surprised if lawmakers introduce new bills during the next legislative session to make possible changes in the law.
Meanwhile in Tallahassee, members of the group Dream Defenders have been holding a sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office pushing for changes to the stand your ground law.
“There are tons of things going on in our state that just disproportionately affect people of color,” said Nailah Summers, University of Florida Dream Defenders president.
Summers said the Dream Defenders do not plan to leave until Scott hears their concerns.
Baxley said he’s aware of the Dream Defenders and others’ concerns about the law.
Still, he said, “you don’t build policy just on that kind of emotion.”
Two interviews with Baxley, one long and one short, can be heard below.