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'Stand your ground' laws rattle US politics, society

The George Zimmerman murder case in Florida focused attention on the state's controversial 'stand-your-ground' law. Critics want to repeal such laws, but that seems unlikely. At least 22 states have 'stand-your-ground' laws.

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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a conservative business and political organization that provides model legislation to state governments. That has included “stand your ground” bills backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

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Democrats in the Florida state legislature are pushing for repeal of the 2005 law.

"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 told a news conference this past week. "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."

But will any of this make much difference?

The fact that Obama weighed in about stand-your-ground laws, the focus of those demonstrations, will help "set a tone for both direct action, and needed dialogue," the Rev. Sharpton told the rally in New York.

But the Associated Press has found scant support for repeal of the laws in Florida and elsewhere.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures at least 21 states have laws similar to Florida’s (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia). Other tallies have put the number of such states closer to 30.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) told reporters Thursday that he agreed with the findings of a task force he appointed on the subject after Trayvon Martin's shooting, which recommended no changes to the stand-your-ground law.

In fact, in states with laws similar to Florida's, the trend has been toward greater gun rights.

In Oklahoma, for example, lawmakers in 2012 passed an "open-carry" measure that allows people with a concealed carry permit to now display their handguns openly in a holster. Other states have sought to expand what are known as "castle doctrine" laws – the right to defend one's self with deadly force in the home – to apply to businesses, the AP reports.

New Hampshire lawmakers this year considered repealing the state's-stand-your ground law, which was enacted in 2011 by a Republican Legislature over a Democratic governor's veto. After narrowly passing the Democratic-led House in March, the bill died in the Republican-led Senate.

To the NRA, questioning the legitimacy of “stand your ground” is just one more part of the Obama administration’s effort to impose gun controls in violation of the Second Amendment.

"The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept, it's a fundamental human right," Chris W. Cox, executive director NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement responding to Holder’s remarks to the NAACP. "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, at least one prominent entertainer vows not to perform in Florida and other states where “stand your ground” laws are in force.

"I decided today that until the 'stand your ground' law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again," Stevie Wonder told the audience at a concert in Quebec the day after the not-guilty verdict in the Zimmerman case was announced. "As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world."


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