Interactive: How Do Legislators Feel About Changes To Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law?

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(Below) Florida’s state representatives and how they feel regarding potential changes to, or a repeal of, the state’s “stand your ground” law.

Florida’s state senators and how they feel regarding potential changes to, or a repeal of, the state’s “stand your ground” law.

Stand your ground outcomes

With about half of Florida legislators supporting the controversial “stand your ground” law as it is written, the possibility of a repeal in the 2014 session seems slim.

According to WUFT News research, most Republicans support the law as is. A mere eight Republican lawmakers are open to changes.

Most notably, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, one of the 2005 sponsors of stand your ground legislation, is open to tweaking the law.

“It is an excellent common sense law, but it is not perfect,” Simmons told the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee in October. “That’s coming from a person who was the main drafter of the stand your ground law back in 2005.”

Florida was the first state to enact stand your ground in 2005, as an expansion of its self-defense law. The law takes away a person’s “duty to retreat” before meeting force with force in any place he or she has the right to be and protects that person from prosecution and liability.

Most recently, opponents of stand your ground suffered another legislative defeat Nov. 8. The Florida House Criminal Justice Subcommittee turned down a stand your ground repeal proposal sponsored by state Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee.

The committee rejected the bill by a vote of 11 to 2, making it the second time a stand your ground repeal was rejected by the Florida legislature.

In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott assigned a 19-person task force composed of the criminal justice and judicial system members, lawmakers and community leaders on either side of the issue to conduct meetings and collect data statewide. The task force held  seven public meetings, heard expert testimony and solicited constituent correspondence to reach a conclusion.

“The task force concurs with the core belief that all persons, regardless of citizenship status have the right to feel safe and secure in our state,” state Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, a task force member, told the subcommittee.

Brodeur said all people have a right to stand their ground in every place they have a lawful right to be.

“To that end, all persons who are conducting themselves in a lawful manner have the fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from an attack in every place they have a lawful right to be,” he said.

A majority of Democrats are united in opposition. Exceptions include state Rep. Carl Zimmermann D- Pinellas, who supports the law as it is written now.

“I’m in an extremely Republican district,” Zimmermann told the Tampa Bay Times after he voted against a special session in August. “I have to represent the district, not just me. But I’m a moderate myself.”

State lawmakers are also concerned about the quality of the continuing stand your ground discussions. In discussion this month, Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, thanked Williams for having done “what doesn’t happen in Washington, D.C.”

Gaetz believed the hearing was “a debate worthy of the people of Florida.”

Lawmakers have previously worried about the importance of revisiting the law. In August, House and Senate members voted 108 to 47 in opposition to a special session outside of the regular schedule for a stand your ground discussion.

The vote against a special session was also divided by party lines. Still, 11 Democrats voted against their party or did not cast a vote, whereas all 101 Republican lawmakers stood united against a special session, according to WUFT research.

“In our culture, there is a deep-seated defense of the Second Amendment,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a co-author of the stand your ground law. Baxley believes the law won’t be repealed because it is a “common sense law” that protects the rights of law-abiding citizens.

The stance of all Republicans remains somewhat unclear. WUFT did not receive answers from 32 state lawmakers, most of which were Republican, after reporters made repeated contact attempts.

Ahmad Abuznaid, legal analyst for the Dream Defenders, a student group that formed in seven Florida college campuses in opposition to stand your ground, said these numbers don’t frighten them. He believes their work will result in a partial repeal of the stand your ground statute.

The stand your ground law garnered national attention after the death of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Although stand your ground was not used in Zimmerman’s defense, jury instructions contained the law’s language.

Zimmerman’s acquittal led the Dream Defenders to maintain a 31-day sit-in at Florida’s Capitol calling for a repeal of the law.

The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee gave the Dream Defenders a flicker of hope in October when they voted 7-2 in favor of a bill that would revise the law.

The bill, proposed by state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, focused on creating stricter regulations for neighborhood watchmen and watch women, prohibited aggressors from claiming stand your ground and required law enforcement to conduct full investigations when stand your ground is used as a defense.

In the meantime, Abuznaid  said the Dream Defenders will use other avenues to continue their repeal efforts.

Recently, a U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee discussed a stand your ground repeal in Washington. If the committee were to bring the discussion to the Senate floor, they could create a federal law prohibiting stand your ground-style laws. This law would not only affect Florida’s law, but also more than 20 states that have stand your ground laws.

The Dream Defenders have also sought help from the international community. In October, they filed a petition with the United Nations to include an investigation into stand your ground laws as part of their scheduled review on civil rights issues within the United States, but the review was postponed because of the government shutdown.

“The fact that one subcommittee shut down an attempt doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to push our elected officials on all our efforts,” Abuznaid said.

About Ethan Magoc

Ethan is a journalist at WUFT News. He's a Pennsylvania native who found a home reporting Florida's stories. Reach him by emailing emagoc@wuft.org or calling 352-294-1525.

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