Trayvon Martin mom assails 'stand your ground' in Congress. Will it matter?

The mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Russell Davis, another slain 17-year-old, spoke before the Senate Tuesday, pressing lawmakers to ask states to clarify their controversial stand your ground laws.

Manuel Balce Cenet/AP
Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, testified on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary hearing on 'stand your ground' laws.

Two mothers whose unarmed, black sons were fatally shot last year spoke before the Senate Tuesday, pressing lawmakers to ask states to clarify their controversial “stand your ground" laws.

The women – Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; and Lucia Holman McBath, mother of Jordan Russell Davis – both lost their 17-year-old sons in incidents in which “stand your ground” laws became a justification for shooting the teenagers, rather than fleeing the situation.

The Democrat-convened hearing was held despite no expected congressional action on the issue, the Associated Press said. The 2014 midterm elections could put pressure on members of Congress to clarify their positions on guns, but so far, Congress has been reluctant to intervene in states' right to keep stand your ground laws on the books.

In February 2012, Trayvon was walking home in Sanford, Fla., with a package of Skittles in his pocket, when a complex narrative unfolded: George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, and Trayvon got into an fight, and Mr. Zimmerman said he shot Trayvon in self-defense. But others said that Trayvon had come under suspicion of being a criminal because he was wearing a hoodie.

The trial this summer for Zimmerman factored in stand your ground legislation. Such laws, on the books in some version in 22 states, including Florida, allow a person who believes him- or herself threatened with death or harm to choose not to retreat, even if retreating is an available option. On July 13, Zimmerman was acquitted of both second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The trial has furnished a continued brimming debate over stand your ground laws.

"I just wanted to come here to talk to you for a moment to let you know how important it is that we amend this stand your ground because it certainly did not work in my case," Ms. Fulton, Trayvon's mother, told the Senate.

"The person that shot and killed my son is walking the streets today,” she said. “This law does not work."

Florida’s stand your ground law is also expected to factor into the trial of Michael David Dunn, Jordan’s alleged killer, next year. Last year in Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. Dunn allegedly fired nine rounds on a Dodge Durango with four teenagers inside, after complaining about their loud music. He says he saw a gun inside the vehicle, though authorities did not retrieve a gun from the scene.

Ms. McBath, Jordan’s mother, told the Senate that she is confronted with the "very real possibility that my son's killer will walk free, hiding behind a statute that lets people claim a threat where there was none." 

"Even the Wild West had more stringent laws governing the taking of life than we have now. Stand your ground defies all reason. It goes against the sound system of justice established long ago on this very hill," she said.

In a microcosm of the discussion that has rankled the United States in recent months, senators tussled over stand your ground legislation at the Judiciary Committee hearing.

“It is clearly time for stand your ground to be carefully reviewed," said Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois, who had called for the hearing.

"These stand your ground laws have allowed shooters to walk free in shocking situations,” he said.

But Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas said, "No one in this room knows exactly what happened that night," referring to the night Trayvon was shot.

There’s a difference "between serious efforts to stop violent crime and efforts to advance a political agenda,” he said.

Florida was the first state to pass a stand your ground law in 2005. Since then, many other states have adopted some version of the law: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia, according to the AP. At least nine laws include the language “stand your ground.”

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