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A day before stand your ground hearing, partisan dust already flying

by John Kennedy | November 6th, 2013

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, traded jabs with a leading Republican Wednesday on the eve of a House hearing on the state’s controversial “stand your ground” self-defense law.

Thurston said House Democrats “strongly believe there must be major changes and fixes” to the 2005 law, which has drawn national attention since shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.

Although the law was not part of the defense used by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, it did figure into instructions given Seminole County jurors who acquitted Zimmerman last summer.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has scheduled a five-hour meeting Thursday to review the law. The Senate is considering modest changes to stand your ground. But House leaders reject the need for any modifications.

Democratic-sponsored legislation (HB 4003) going before the committee would repeal the law, but is almost certain to fail. While Thurston spoke only about fixing the law — and not repealing it — Gaetz said that showed signs of a split among Democrats.

“The House Democratic caucus is taking on the personality of Charlie Crist more and more,” Gaetz said, citing the freshly minted Democratic candidate for governor, who is a former Republican governor. “First they wanted a repeal of stand your ground, now they apparently want changes to stand your ground. Who knows what they’re going to want tomorrow?”

Florida was the first of two dozen states to approve stand your ground laws, which allow people to use deadly force to protect themselves. Before these new laws emerged, people who felt threatened outside their homes were required to flee an attacker if they could before using force to defend themselves.

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