Law
3:20 pm
Fri July 19, 2013

Florida Governor Stands Firm On 'Stand Your Ground' Law

Originally published on Fri July 19, 2013 5:30 pm

In the days after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin, protesters camped out at Gov. Rick Scott's office in Tallahassee, calling for a meeting.

When Scott met with protesters on Thursday, one of the group's leaders, Philip Agnew, asked the governor to convene a special session of the Legislature to look at repealing the state's stand your ground law.

"It is the time for leadership," Agnew said. "The world is watching. Most definitely, the nation is watching. And you have the opportunity to stand tall above the rest."

Scott called for a statewide day of prayer for unity on Sunday, but he said he's not budging on stand your ground.

"I'm not going to call a special session," Scott told the protesters. "I don't believe right now that stand your ground should be changed. But I tell you right now, I appreciate you."

The demonstrators say they plan on camping outside the governor's office until he calls a special session.

Florida passed its version of the law in 2005. It allows people who feel threatened to use deadly force in self-defense. And it says they have no duty to retreat. Similar provisions have since been adopted by some 30 other states.

After Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the 2012 shooting death of the unarmed Martin, the outcry led Scott to convene a special task force to examine the law. The task force, which included two of the law's authors, ultimately recommended only minor changes.

The day after the verdict, singer Stevie Wonder said he would not perform in the state until the law was repealed. And an online petition drive has started calling for a boycott of Florida tourism.

Republican state Rep. Dennis Baxley, who helped write Florida's stand your ground law, said many opponents don't really understand that the law was intended in part to help protect tourists, and a boycott makes little sense.

"If you're here with your family and you want to feel safe, that if you defend yourself or your family from a hotel invasion or if somebody [is] trying to carjack you, and you have to meet force with force," you should know that the state of Florida won't prosecute you, Baxley says.

After losing the case against Zimmerman, prosecutor Angela Corey declined to criticize the stand your ground law, saying only that justifiable use of deadly force is one of the most "difficult" areas of the law.

Mike Satz, another state attorney, isn't so reticent. At a news conference in Fort Lauderdale, Satz supported the call to change the law, especially the section that eliminates a person's duty to retreat.

"Before, there was a common-law duty that you had to retreat before you used deadly force," he said. "Now in the statute it says you don't have to retreat. Before you take somebody's life, think about the alternatives."

Democrats are in the minority in both chambers of Florida's Legislature. In the last session, efforts to change the law were blocked by Republican leaders. Democratic Senate leader Chris Smith says that's because Republicans don't want a debate on the controversial law. But Smith says it's now time for Republicans to come to the table.

"People that are talking boycott, they're saying boycott because they think Florida is not going to do anything," he said. "But the way to stave that off is to hear the bills. The way to stave that off is to step forward and actually do something."

In Washington, Congress may also weigh in on the issue. Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin says he'll hold a hearing on stand your ground laws on the books in Florida and around the country.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

As we just heard, the president asked today whether Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and other states should be re-examined. One question is whether the law encourages confrontations such as the one that ended Trayvon Martin's life in Sanford, Florida.

As NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami, the president's comments add to growing pressure to repeal the law.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: In the days following the verdict, there were rallies and vigils across the country - in Sanford, Washington, California, and in Florida's capital, Tallahassee.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Who do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Rick Scott.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: When do we want him?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Now.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Who do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Rick Scott.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: When do we want him?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Now.

ALLEN: Since Tuesday, young activists have camped out of Governor Rick Scott's office, demanding a meeting. Scott was away. But yesterday evening, he flew back to Tallahassee and met with the protesters.

One of the groups' leaders, Phillip Agnew, asked the governor to convene a special session of the legislature to look at repealing the Stand Your Ground law.

PHILLIP AGNEW: It is the time for leadership. The world is watching. Most definitely, the nation is watching. And you have an opportunity to just stand tall above the rest.

ALLEN: Florida passed the Stand Your Ground law in 2005. It allows people who feel threatened to use deadly force in self-defense. And it says they have no duty to retreat. Since then, similar provisions have been adopted by some 30 other states.

After George Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the outcry led Governor Scott to convene a special task force to examine the law. The task force included two of the law's authors and, in the end, recommended only minor changes. Last night, Governor Scott called for a statewide day of prayer for unity on Sunday. But he said he's standing by the recommendations of the task force.

GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT: I'm not going to call a special session. I don't believe right now that Stand Your Ground should be changed. But I can tell you right now, I appreciate you.

ALLEN: The protesters say they plan on camping outside the governor's office until he calls a special session. There are others in Florida and nationally taking up the call. The day after the verdict, Stevie Wonder said he would not perform in the state until the law was repealed. And an online petition drive has started calling for a boycott of Florida tourism.

The man who helped write Florida's Stand Your Ground law believes many opponents don't really understand it. Republican Representative Dennis Baxley says a boycott makes little sense. The law, he says, was also intended to help protect tourists.

REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS BAXLEY: If you're here with your family and you want to feel safe that if you defend yourself or your family from a hotel invasion or if somebody trying to carjack you, and you have to meet force with force, that the state of Florida is going to stand with you.

ALLEN: After losing the case against Zimmerman, prosecutor Angela Corey declined to criticize the Stand Your Ground law, saying only that justifiable use of deadly force is one of the most difficult areas of the law.

Another state attorney, Mike Satz, though, isn't so reticent. At a news conference in Fort Lauderdale, Satz supported the call to change the law, especially the section that eliminates a person's duty to retreat.

MIKE SATZ: And before there was a common law duty that you had to retreat before you use deadly force. Now, in the statute, it says you don't have to retreat. Before you take somebody's life, think about the alternatives because life is precious.

ALLEN: Democrats are in the minority in both chambers of Florida's legislature. In the last session, efforts to make changes to the law were blocked by Republican leaders.

Democratic Senate Leader Chris Smith says that's because Republicans don't want a debate on the controversial law. But he says, with talk of a boycott, it's time for them to come to the table.

STATE SENATOR CHRIS SMITH: People that are talking boycott, they're saying boycott because they think Florida is not going to do anything. People that are talking about not spending money in Florida because they think we're going to do what we've always done, and that's nothing when it comes to protecting certain communities. But the way to stave that off is to hear the bills. The way to stave that off is to step forward and actually do something.

ALLEN: In Washington, Congress may also weigh in on the issue. Illinois Democratic Senator Richard Durbin says in light of the Zimmerman verdict, he'll hold a hearing on Stand Your Ground laws on the books in Florida and around the country. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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