Stand Your Ground law: Florida review panel to draw wide scrutiny
Florida's review of its controversial Stand Your Ground law began Tuesday. Spurred by the Trayvon Martin shooting, it is the first comprehensive look at the effect of such laws, which 24 other states have copied.
(Page 2 of 2)
While that panel did not suggest repealing the law, its findings showed that the law may have helped those guilty of crimes escape prosecution.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“This [law] is being used in many, many cases,” state Sen. Chris Smith (D), who convened the panel, told the Miami Herald. “This is being used with a prostitute killing her john, this is being used in gang fights, this is being used everywhere.”
One member of Senator Smith’s panel, Florida International University law Prof. Joelle Anne Moreno, suggests that the law did shift the self-defense standard to a such a degree that it created opportunity for abuse and injustice.
“The law purports to set a reasonable standard, but there’s enough ambiguity that it does create an opportunity for a level of subjective applications that I don’t think was as easy to do under the old-fashioned common regular self-defense law,” she says.
The governor’s task force intends to hold forums in different parts of Florida to get a sense of how residents perceive the law. Critics say the panel is stacked with pro-Second Amendment members, including two lawmakers who introduced the original law and who have said publicly that the law does not need to be changed.
But task force leaders say they’re serious about investigating the law and recommending changes, if necessary. "We're going to engage the entire state of Florida to tell us the pros and cons, how they feel about these laws," the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., who is serving as vice chairman, told CNN.
The task force’s chairwoman, Lieutenant Governor Carroll, is herself an enigmatic study of the intersection of race and gun laws. Born in Trinidad, she’s been an outspoken proponent of gun rights and has in the past criticized the NAACP for hewing to left-wing causes. But she has also said conservatives should play a larger role in the civil rights organization, because it ultimately seeks equal treatment and equal justice for African-Americans.
Her position as panel chairwoman, in some ways, embodies shifting perceptions about race and gun rights, some of which clash with stereotypes.
The Trayvon Martin case itself began amid outrage over the shooting and perceptions about Zimmerman, who some painted as a racist. But revelations that Zimmerman stood up for the downtrodden, including blacks and the homeless, and has black ancestry have challenged those early judgments.
Still, the barest fact of the Trayvon Martin case – that an unarmed black teenager minding his own business was shot dead by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, originally without consequence – is a challenge to a period of liberalization for gun rights in the US.
“It would be naïve in the extreme to suggest that you could separate out the racial issues – clearly in this particular case they’re intertwined – and even if you stop speaking about Trayvon Martin, you start to speak about people’s … biases and prejudices [and how they] play into decisions when they feel afraid,” says Professor Moreno. “Hopefully, [the review of the law] will spark a broader dialogue about what kind of society we want to live in and what kind of criminal justice system we want to have.”
RECOMMENDED: How 5 young black men see the Trayvon Martin case