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Senate OK’s beefing up stand your ground with ‘warning shot’ provision

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Senate approved legislation expanding Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law Thursday, giving new legal safeguards to people who threaten to use a firearm in self-defense or fire a warning shot instead of fleeing.

The measure (CS/HB 89) was OK’d 32-7.  While opponents said expanding Florida’s controversial self-defense law risks the spread of gun violence in Florida, supporters said it gave judges a chance to consider more issues that led to a violent encounter.

“This is just one more step forward for citizens to protect themselves,” said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the Senate sponsor.

The legislation, approved last week by the House, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who hasn’t indicated whether he would sign it.

Stand your ground, which authorizes people to fight back instead of retreating when threatened, became Florida law in 2005. But it has come under intense scrutiny following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin two years ago and more recently Jordan Davis, a Jacksonville youth shot dead following a confrontation over loud music.

Still, calls for a warning shot exemption emerged with the Marissa Alexander case, a Jacksonville woman awaiting a July retrial on an aggravated assault charge, which she received after alleging she fired a warning shot to protect herself from a violent husband. Aggravated assault with a weapon carryiesa minimum mandatory prison sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life law.

“This bill will allow a judge to look at extenuating circumstances,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. “I may not like some of the components in this bill, but it allows judges to look at several circumstances to make a correct ruling.”

But Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, warned, “this is the wrong message to send.”

“There are communities around Florida where gun violence is too prevalent,” he added.

The legislation also allows added legal protection when force is threatened. People cleared by the courts because they acted in self-defense would be authorized to petition courts to have their records expunged.

Capitol protesters target Scott, stand your ground

Monday, March 10th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Capitol marchers demand repeal of stand your ground

The Rev. Al Sharpton was joined Monday by Trayvon Martin’s parents and more than 1,000 protesters who marched Monday a few blocks to the Florida Capitol demanding repeal of the state’s stand your ground self-defense law.

Gov. Rick Scott and Republican leaders who helped pass the 2005 law were targeted for defeat this fall by many speakers, who said it was important for Florida to undo the controversial law that has been since embraced by some two-dozen states.

“Florida is the first state to enact the law in 2005,” Sharpton said. “We came back to where it started to begin where it will end.”

Without a repeal, organizers said a boycott against a pair of Florida symbols, Tropicana Orange Juice and Walt Disney World, would be revived. The boycott was first attempted last summer after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of the 17-year-old Martin in Sanford.

Along with Martin’s parents, attending the protest was the mother of Jordan Davis, black, 17-year-old shot dead in Jacksonville by a white man following an argument over loud music. While stand your ground wasn’t used by Michael Dunn, Davis’ shooter, or Zimmerman, both men argued that they fired in self-defense.

Stand your ground allows residents 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.

But the hot-button Martin and Davis cases have stirred emotions and were cited Monday as examples of new form of racial discrimination against black citizens, particularly youth.

Underscoring the historical context the stand your ground law has gained among many, at least one family member of slain civil rights icon Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black youth murdered in 1955 in Mississippi, was among those at Monday’s rally.

“The time is now,” said Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father. “We’ve got to show up, we’ve got to show out, we’ve got to vote.”

Bishop Victor Curry of Miami said that if Scott and the Republican-led Legislature continue in their support of stand your ground, “then in November, we should remove or repeal Rick Scott.”



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

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 by John Kennedy

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.

Stand your ground gets modest rework by Senate panel

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A Florida Senate panel agreed Tuesday to modest changes to the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law, while not ruling out more sweeping steps in the wake of last summer’s George Zimmerman verdict.

The Judiciary Committee voted 7-2 to endorse a measure (CS/SB 130) that requires law enforcement agencies to develop guidelines for neighborhood watch groups and also would demand that they fully investigate any claims made using the self-defense law enacted in 2005.

Proposals to revisit stand your ground went nowhere earlier this year in the Legislature. But last summer’s acquittal of Zimmerman in the shooting 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin has renewed focus on the legislation and Tuesday’s hearing marked the first time lawmakers took a second look at how the law has been applied.

“This has truly been an effort where we have taken this issue…and reached a consensus so far,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. “If there’s more we can do later, we will do it.”

The House has shown little interest in reworking the law. But Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he still will work toward finding agreement with supporters of the legislation on a provision more strictly defining who an aggressor is when two people meet in a violent confrontation.


Baxley says Trayvon Martin case being used by Obama and Democrats

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The House sponsor of Florida’s controversial stand your ground law said Wednesday that he is frustrated that President Obama and others are using the measure and the Trayvon Martin case to rally opposition against Republicans.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, condemned what he called the “manipulation” of a tragic situation. Baxley spoke at a Republican club in Tallahassee where later this month, lawmakers plan to hold a public hearing on the self-defense law.

“He went from a position of saying ‘this young man could be my son’ to ‘this could be me,’” Baxley said of Obama. “When he merged those images, I couldn’t help but feel some political implications to that.”

Baxley said others like the Rev. Al Sharpton have been more explict, saying the Martin case and calls for repeal of stand your ground are aimed at the 2014 and 2016 elections. But Baxley said Republicans are not going to be pressured into overturning a law that he said has heightened public safety.

“Let’s face it. In a political environment, people are going to use whatever they have,” Baxley told reporters after speaking to the Capital City Republican Club. “But let’s don’t let them misuse it.”

The law, approved in 2005 unanimously by the Florida Senate and in an overwhelming, 94-20 vote in the House, was not used by lawyers defending George Zimmerman in the shooting death of the unarmed teen-ager. But it did shape the jury instructions given to the six-woman jury which acquitted Zimmerman.

Florida is among two-dozen states with stand your ground laws, allowing residents 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.

Like Baxley, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sees little need to change the stand your ground law. But Weatherford has said the House Criminal Justice Committee will hold a hearing this month on the law, mostly to hear testimony from law enforcement authorities about any difficulties they’ve faced with implementing the measure.

Legislation, however, also has been filed to repeal the law — or modify its use.

Leaders of the activist group, Dream Defenders, which staged a 31-day sit-in at the Florida Capitol ending last month, said they plan to attend the House hearing. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement released a report Wednesday that said providing Capitol Police security at the sit-in cost taxpayers more than $172,500 in overtime expenses.

Special session bid fails, but protest heading into its 2nd month

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Democrats have failed in a bid to call a special session of the state Legislature to repeal the controversial “stand your ground law.”

Enough Republicans had voted ‘no’ by late Wednesday to scuttle the push for a session which used a never-before-tried poll of lawmakers. Protesters on Wednesday also marked the 30th day of  their sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office demanding the special session, a protest spawned by George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Although a decision on the session won’t become official until midnight Monday, more than 80 of Florida’s 119 lawmakers refused to endorse the push for a session. Three-fifths support of the Legislature, or roughly 95 votes in favor, are needed under the state constitution.

All but one of the ‘no’ votes have come from Republicans, with only Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, breaking ranks with Democratic leadership.

“Not enough votes 4 SYG Special Session,” House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said in a message on Twitter. “FL supports self defense laws. We’re spending way too much on protest security.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Wednesday that overtime costs for security at the Capitol has neared $150,000 since the protest began. So far, legislative leaders, Scott and the state’s Department of Management Services have not indicated they would seek to end the protest.

Still, Wednesday evening signs were posted at the Capitol warning that “routinely scheduled” fire alarm safety testing would occur between 8 p.m. and midnight. “This testing will include the constant ringing of a loud, high pitch fire alarm throughout multiple floors of the Florida Capitol Building,” the sign warned.

“We’re not leaving,” said Dwayne Campbell, a student at Tallahassee Community College and a member of the Dream Defenders. “We are only becoming more mobilized.”




Democrats trigger poll of Legislature on special session

Monday, August 12th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Enough Florida Democratic lawmakers have petitioned Secretary of State Ken Detzner, that his office Monday began polling the full Legislature on holding a special session on the state’s ”stand your ground” law.

Protesters have crowded Capitol hallways for a month seeking to have the 2005 law repealed. Gov. Rick Scott has rejected the request.

But Florida Democrats have found a little-used state law that requires the secretary of state to poll the full Legislature on whether a special session should be held. The law requires such polling when 20 percent of lawmakers demand a session. Enough Democrats asked that the poll was started Monday.

While 33 Democrats are on board with the special session, that’s just under one-third the count needed for a session to be called. Ninety-six of the 160 lawmakers must endorse the special session in the poll — numbers not likely to emerge in a Legislature dominated by Scott’s fellow Republicans.

The action shows Democratic solidarity with the demonstrators, but likely little else. Still, Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, who has spent hours with the Dream Defender protesters leading the sit-in at the Capitol, called Monday’s poll, “a significant step.”

Overnight protest crowd grows for 10th night of sit-in

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The 10th day of a sit-in at Florida’s Capitol ended with a crowd of about 100 protesters planning to camp out in the first-floor hallways, with the number swollen by new arrivals from Philadelphia and a handful of ministers from across the state.

Youth United for Change brought about 30 people from Philadelphia to the Tallahassee event, which has been going on even as Gov. Rick Scott has steered clear of the Capitol. Scott has been lately in Colorado at the Republican Governors’ Association gathering while protesters in the Capitol lobby call for a special session to repeal the state’s stand your ground law and a host of juvenile justice changes.

The protest started July 16, following George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford.

“We came with you all because we are all dreamers,” Saeda Clark, with Youth United, told the crowd gathered Thursday at the Capitol, led by the Dream Defenders, a statewide youth advocacy group. “There will be no more Trayvon Martins, as of today, staring with us.”

About a half-dozen ministers from Orlando, Gainesvilee, Tallahassee and Pensacola also planned to stay overnight at the Capitol in support of the protesters. One of the clergy, Kevin Thorpe, said the ministers are part of People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO).

Democrat Rich to join protesters at Capitol

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Democratic gubernatorial contender Nan Rich plans to be the first statewide political candidate to join protesters at the Florida Capitol, saying she shares the concerns of those now in their 10th day outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office.

“The lack of equality in this state and how our laws are administered are important issues,” said Rich, a former state senator from Weston. “Stand your ground and the juvenile justice concerns these young people have raised are worth talking about.”

Rich supported the controversial stand your ground legislation when it was approved, 39-0, by the Florida Senate in 2005. It later cleared the House 94-20 and was signed into law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

Rich plans to stop by the Capitol on Saturday.  She expects to be in Tallahassee that day to meet with the Democratic Club of North Florida.

While activists intend to remain in the Capitol for the weekend – visitors like Rich would be barred from entry. Still, several supporters showed up last weekend outside the 22-story building to voice support for those inside.

“I am the only active, Democratic candidate in the race,” Rich said, a dig at the anticipated, but still unannounced candidacy of former Republican governor-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist. “These issues are very important to me.”

Some organizations involved in the push for repeal of the self-defense, stand your ground law were active in get-out-the-vote efforts for President Obama in 2012. Democrats acknowledge that the measure potentially could power voters to the polls in a fashion similar to last year, when anger over election-law changes enacted by Scott and Republican leaders gave a spark to voter drives.

On Thursday night, the couple dozen protesters who have been overnighting at the Capitol are expected to be joined by as many as 40 clergy from around the state. Scott has been at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Colorado and has said he doesn’t anticipate returning to Tallahassee until next week.

Will Zimmerman verdict echo in Florida’s ’14 elections? Activists attempt to make sure it does

Monday, July 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida’s “stand your ground” law has emerged as a powerful political symbol in the wake of the George Zimmerman case, with Democratic-allied activists looking to carry the issue into next year’s elections as a sign of Republican leadership working to oppress minorities.

Like the 2011 changes made to the state’s voting laws by Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature, organizations say the self-defense law mostly threatens poor, black and young Floridians.

Florida groups that used the voting measure as a rallying point to drive supporters of President Barack Obama and state Democratic candidates to the polls last fall are now organizing behind the call for repeal of stand your ground. Republicans are saying the push to change the law is a “misrepresentation” of the legal strategies in Zimmerman’s case.

“For many people, this is an example of just the type of policies Republicans and Gov. Rick Scott are pushing through in this state,” said Elbert Garcia, a spokesman for Florida New Majority, which worked last fall to encourage voting in black, Hispanic and low-income communities identified as less likely to cast ballots.

Florida New Majority is now assisting other veterans of the presidential campaign, such groups as the Miami Workers’ Center and PowerU Center in Miami in organizing activists angered by Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Full story:



FAU group now part of Capitol protest

Friday, July 19th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Dozens of activists, including a newly arrived entourage from Florida Atlantic University, prepared Friday to spend the weekend locked in the state Capitol, as the demonstration against the stand your ground law continued.

Capitol Police locked the doors of the 22-story building at 5 p.m. Friday, not long after volunteers carted trays of sandwiches, chips, soft drinks and water into the main lobby for the protesters long weekend.

“We may not that much of a difference right now, but we’ll see,” said Alexandra Caruso, 26, of Coral Springs, a graduate student at FAU. “Sometimes the kind of changes we’re looking to make take more than our lifetime. But it will come.”

Caruso said she was among seven FAU students who made the trip Friday to Tallahassee to participate in the demonstration in its fourth day. Activists led by an organization called the Dream Defenders have crowded Gov. Rick Scott’s office and adjacent first-floor hallway at the Capitol since Tuesday.

Like most of this week, Scott was away from the Capitol again Friday, making appearances at events elsewhere in the state.

Scott met with leaders of the protest for 45-minutes late Thursday but rejected their call for a special session to repeal the self-defense law that opponents say  contributed to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin last year in Sanford.

The crowd gathering as the Capitol closed for the weekend topped 100 people, including representatives of area churches, the Florida National Organization for Women, and low-income advocates.

Dale Landry, head of the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP, also encouraged the protesters, saying they were only blocks from where civil rights demonstrators engaged in a lunchroom sit-in and bus boycott more than 50 years ago.

“You are fulfilling a mission,” Landry said.

Protesters crowd Gov. Scott’s office for second day

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A couple dozen protesters Wednesday continued to crowd the lobby of Rick Scott’s Capitol office Wednesday urging the out-of-town governor to take action against Florida’s stand-your-ground law in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict.

The protesters, some from as far away as Miami, began gathering a day earlier and insisted they intended to stay until they drew a response from Scott. The governor was in New York most of Tuesday and is spending Wednesday at a series of events in the Florida Panhandle.

“Tell Rick Scott to come back, we’ve got some Skittles for him,” said Dwayne Campbell, 31, a Tallahassee Community College student, citing the candy 17-year-old Trayvon Martin carried with him when shot by Zimmerman during an altercation.

Some of the protesters, whose number had swelled to more than 100 on Tuesday, spent the night on the marble-floored hallway outside the governor’s office.

Organizers said others were expected to arrive Wednesday, but many at the scene said they planned to be there for the long haul.

“We’re serious. We don’t plan to leave,” said Shamile Louis, 21, a sociology student from the University of Florida who used a computer tablet to lead an internet discussion from the governor’s office.

Louis said the group has been contacted by supporters across the country and even from Ireland. Among the groups gathered at the Capitol were representatives of Dream Defenders, whose leader, Ciara Taylor, is from Jacksonville, and PowerU Center in Miami.

The protesters have called for a repeal of Florida’s stand-your-ground law. More than two dozen states have such measures that allow people to use deadly force if they think their life is being threatened.

The role that law played in the Martin shooting is in dispute — with Zimmerman’s defense team not having used the law as the basis for their arguments. But U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a speech this week to the NAACP, said the laws encourage gun owners to seek confrontation rather than avoiding it.




U.S. Commission on Civil Rights member: ‘Stand Your Ground’ responsible for Zimmerman acquittal

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights member Michael Yaki, who initiated the federal panel’s investigation into racial bias and stand your ground laws, blamed George Zimmerman’s acquittal on Florida’s first-in-the-nation law giving allowing people to use deadly force without retreating if they feel their lives are in danger.

Zimmerman’s lawyers argued that the neighborhood watch volunteer shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense after the unarmed black teenager attacked him. Zimmerman was following Martin in a townhome community in Sanford.

Yaki, who once worked for U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, issued the following statement this morning:

While the jury has spoken, the fact remains that an unarmed young man, with his whole future ahead of him, was killed by a gun. It is my personal belief that Florida’s Stand Your Ground, coupled with easy access to guns, was a largely responsible for this tragedy. But notwithstanding my personal feelings, the Trayvon Martin case opened up a nationwide inquiry into the appropriateness and efficacy of Stand Your Ground laws, and the US Commission on Civil Rights will pursue this investigation wherever it leads. To honor Trayvon and his family we will continue this inquiry with resolve and renewed purpose.

The Justice Department is reviewing the case, and the NAACP has gathered nearly 1 million petitions demanding that Zimmerman be charged with a federal hate crime.

UPDATE: Capitol sit-in planned over Zimmerman not guilty verdict

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Photo courtesy Dream Defenders

UPDATE: At least 50 protesters from around the state are settling into Gov. Rick Scott’s office on the first floor of the Capitol. The Dream Defenders and others want Scott, who’s in New York, to call a special session and are demanding lawmakers establish the Florida “Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act.” The group, mostly students, want changes to Florida’s stand your ground law and “zero tolerance” school policies and are asking for anti-racial profiling training for law enforcement officers. So far, the protest has been orderly as buses of more protesters, many of them college students, continue to arrive. Organizers said they expect at least 200 to join the sit-in and they plan to stay overnight.

Young people from around the state are planning a sit-in at Gov. Rick Scott’s office in reaction to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Dream Defenders are busing up college students and others from Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Gainesville to demand that Scott call a special session to review stand your ground, racial profiling and zero tolerance school policies they believe are the reason Trayvon Martin wound up in Sanford last year.

Organizers expect as many as 200 to attend the protest they’re calling #TakeoverTuesday on Twitter.

Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew said they’re prepared to wait “as long as it takes” for their demands to be met.

Scott’s in New York today and the Legislature won’t be in town until September at the earliest, when committee meetings meeting.

Like many others around the country, Agnew and his group, who’s protest has the blessing of the left-leaning Florida New Majority, are frustrated by Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict. Protests and vigils began the day after Saturday’s verdict and Al Sharpton, who will be at the NAACP convention in Orlando on Wednesday, said his organization is planning rallies in 100 cities in front of federal courthouses on Saturday.

“This is our step. We can’t burn our communities down. We can’t riot. So what can we do but go to the seat of power and ask them to do what they’re supposed to do,” Agnew said early this morning.

Agnew said the group is aware that Scott and the Legislature aren’t around but they wanted to give the leaders plenty of time to work on the Dream Defenders agenda the protesters believe will help avoid future tragedies.

Trayvon Martin, who lived in Miami Gardens with his mother Sybrina Fulton, was suspended from high school prior to going to Sanford to stay with his father Tracy. The Dream Defenders and other groups have made zero tolerance policies they call the “schools-to-prisons pipeline” a top issue.

Scott ‘Stand Your Ground’ task force releases final recommendations

Friday, February 22nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott’s task force examining the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law officially released its final recommendations today, essentially saying the law giving citizens the right to defend themselves with deadly force without the duty to retreat when they feel threatened should remain intact.

Scott appointed the task force after a national outcry sparked by last year’s Feb. 26 death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black, 17-year-old shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin in self-defense, shining a spotlight on the state’s first-in-the-nation Stand Your Ground law that allows individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened and provides immunity from prosecution. A judge has not yet decided whether the Stand Your Ground applies in the case against Zimmerman, who was arrested charged with murder after Scott appointed a special prosecutor.

Scott’s “Citizen Safety and Protection” task force held meetings around the state and approved the draft recommendations in November.

The group is asking the Legislature to consider:
_ Defining the portion in the law that allows individuals to use Stand Your Ground as long as they are not engaged in “unlawful activity.”
_ Give law enforcement agencies more specific instructions about what neighborhood crime prevention programs and their volunteers can do.
_ Whether immunity from prosecution in criminal and civil actions applies to innocent bystanders.

Altamonte Springs Republican state Sen. David Simmons, a co-sponsor of the 2005 law who served on the panel, has filed a bill (SB 930) that includes two of those suggestions but does not address innocent bystanders.

House and Senate Democrats, including Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, have filed a slew of bills that would amend the law or repeal it altogether but GOP legislative leaders say they want the law to remain as is.

And task force is recommending that

Trayvon Martin’s mother, black lawmakers push repeal of Stand Your Ground

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Sybrina Fulton joined two Democratic state lawmakers pushing a repeal of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law invoked by George Zimmerman, neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Fulton’s 17-year-old unarmed son Trayvon Martin nearly one year ago.

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, have filed a proposal (HB 4009) that would strip the 2005 law from the books. Martin’s shooting sparked a national outcry that focused a spotlight on Florida’s first-in-the-nation law allows people to use deadly force if they feel threatened and provides immunity from prosecution.

“How many lives do we have to lose? How many children have to be killed? How many times are we going to bury our loved ones and not do anything about it? It is important that we do something about this law. As a parent I just don’t quite understand how someone can be a make-believe cop, pursue my son who had every right to be in that neighborhood, chase him, get in a confrontation with him, shoot and kill him and not be arrested,” Fulton said at a press conference in the Capitol on Wednesday. “Something has to be done. We have to put our collective minds together and we have to strategize and we have to make changes to this law. We need to get rid of this law. We need to do something seriously about this law. As a parent, I wouldn’t want you to stand I my shoes. Because it is hard. It’s difficult.”

Zimmerman was arrested 44 days after the Feb. 26 shooting after Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor in the case. Trayvon Martin would have been 18 years old on Feb. 5, Williams noted.

Fulton’s lawyer Benjamin Crump called the law vague and confusing for law enforcement officials and should be repealed.

“Every Tom, Dick and Harry who kills somebody is saying I was standing my ground,” Crump said.

Scott appointed a task force to look into the law. Their recommendations include minor tweaks to the law but no major overhaul, and it is unlikely that the GOP-controlled legislature will take it off the books.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat who represents the district in which Fulton lives, blasted Scott’s task force for failing to appoint open critics of the law, including himself, and failing to hold a meeting in his district.

“Get rid of the law,” he said.

Bullard acknowledged that the NRA’s influence could make the repeal a difficult sell.

But, he said: “How many people have to die in order to make a change?”

Florida concealed weapons permits soon to reach 1 million milestone

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida is on track to hit the one million mark for active concealed weapons permits – more than any other state in the nation – according to Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Putnam, whose office issues and oversees the permits, told reporters Wednesday that there are currently about 993,000 permits in the state. At the rate the concealed weapons permits are being issued, Putnam said he expects Florida to hit the 1 million mark – the highest in the nation – sometime next week.

Nearly one in 14 Floridians over the age of 21 have the permits, according to Putnam’s data. Permits are restricted to those over the age of 21 unless they are in the military and to those who have not been a convicted felon or have had their gun rights restored.

The number of permits has steadily risen since the state first began issuing the permits 25 years ago.

Last year, 151,883 permits were issued, second only to the 167,240 permits issued in 2010. About 80 percent of the current permit-holders are men, and nearly than one-third are between the ages of 51 and 65, according to Putnam’s department. The vast majority of permit holders are white or Hispanic, Putnam said.

Nearly one in 14 Floridians over the age of 21 have the permits, which are restricted to people over the age of 21 unless they are in the military and to those who have not been a convicted felon or have had their gun rights restored. About 90 percent of the permit holders are Florida residents, Putnam said.

Only about .3 percent of the 2 million licenses issued over the life of the program have been revoked, Putnam said. Licenses can be revoked when someone is found guilty of committing a felony or been deemed to be mentally incompetent by a court.

Florida’s concealed weapons permits came under scrutiny in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who has a concealed weapons permit, claimed he shot and killed the unarmed teenager in self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Zimmerman was later charged with second-degree murder.

Putnam said he held the press conference to announce the milestone because he’s asked about the concealed weapons permits more than any other topic. And he said the low revocation rate proves the system is working.

“So clearly, Floridians who are obtaining these licenses are obtaining them for the right reasons and overwhelmingly using them in an appropriate way,” Putnam, who said he has a concealed weapons permit, said.

Putnam gave a National Rifle Association-ready response to a question about what the milestone means about Florida and its culture.

“I think that surpassing the one million active license tells us that Floridians have a great respect and appreciation for their Second Amendment rights and that firearm ownership whether for personal protection, for sport or for collections is a popular thing,” he said.

Stand Your Ground task force finalizing recommendations

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

PENSACOLA _ After four months of testimony regarding Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, a panel headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll is finalizing recommendations to the legislature about how – if at all – the law should be changed.

But critics of the task force appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in the aftermath of the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer were disappointed by the panel’s suggestions, saying they will do little to clear up what they call haphazard application of the law.

The panel’s first recommendation is an affirmation of the law.

“The Task Force concurs with the core belief that all persons, regardless of citizenship status, have a right to feel safe and secure in our state. To that end, all persons have a fundamental right to defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be and are conducting themselves in a lawful manner.”

Other recommendations include:
- Asking the legislature to examine the “unlawful activity” of the law. The statute says that the Stand Your Ground law can be invoked as long as people are not engaged in “unlawful activity.”
- Training for prosecutors, law enforcement officials and others about how the law works.
- Having the lawmakers consider setting standards for neighborhood watch groups, now left up mostly to local law enforcement.
- Asking lawmakers to examine the definition of “criminal prosecution” to clear up confusion by law enforcement officials about what they are allowed to do under the law.

“The Task Force heard examples of law enforcement expressing concern for the definition of ‘criminal prosecution.’ The concerns were that law enforcement was not assured of the ability to fully investigate by detaining or arresting upon probable cause a person engaged in use of force,” that recommendation reads.

The panel, just back from lunch, is slated to discuss the “10-20-Life” law as it relates to the use of Stand Your Ground, possibly making a recommendation to relax that gun-related statute that includes mandatory sentences for crimes in which a gun in used.

Criminal defense lawyers and the sponsors of the Stand Your Ground law vehemently objected to a proposal to do away with the immunity from prosecution portion of the law, saying that would effectively gut the statute.

Palm Beach County circuit judge Krista Marx brought up the issue of immunity, arguing that only judges can give immunity. Under the law, people who use the Stand Your Ground defense are immune from prosecution unless a judge decides they may have committed a crime.

She said law enforcement can still investigate whether a crime was committed.

“So when you use the word immunity and suggest that a law enforcement officer or even a state attorney can infer immunity on somebody, it’s incorrect,” Marx said.

But state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the law, disagreed. He wanted to make sure the law continued to keep people who use Stand Your Ground from having to hire a lawyer to defend themselves in court.

“I think the legislature does have the authority to say who will be prosecuted and who will be not prosecuted,” Baxley said. “And in that generic sense that they’re immune from prosecution if in fact they were a law-abiding citizen they were doing nothing wrong except what they should do, which is stop a violent act so nobody got beat raped or murdered. You do not detain them. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do…They’re stopping a violent act. And that’s what I want the statute to do at the end of the day.”

Trayvon Martin’s parents plead with Gov. Scott’s task force to change ‘Stand Your Ground’

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Benjamin Crump, Sybrina Fulton, Jahvaris Fulton and Tracy Martin

LONGWOOD _ Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the parents of the unarmed black teenager shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February, made an impassioned plea to change the state’s Stand Your Ground law that they say encourages vigilantism.

Zimmerman claimed he shot their son Trayvon Martin in self-defense, permissible under the state’s Stand Your Ground law that allows people to use deadly force when they feel threatened.

“I believe my son was standing his ground…He was afraid,” Fulton told reporters outside the mega-church where the public is now addressing the task force for the first time since Scott created it after a national outcry over a delay in the arrest of Zimmerman. Authorities arrested Zimmerman two months after the Feb. 26 shooting in Sanford. “They do need to review these laws. “He was afraid…This is personal. They do need to review these laws.”

The couple also delivered 375,000 online petitions collected by Second Chance on Shoot First, a national campaign co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“This is definitely personal to us. Our son has been sacrificed,” Tracy Martin said. “It’s a bad law. These laws are set up basically for the shooter to take an innocent life.”

Tracy Martin also disputed Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense, saying he ignored 911 operators instructions to remain in his vehicle and not to pursue Martin.

“He was defending himself against what?” Martin said.

The law gives the message that “it’s OK to be a vigilante in our society today,” Martin said. “The public is not going to stand around for it and we certainly aren’t going to stand around for it.”

Sparse crowd as ‘Stand Your Ground’ meeting begins

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

LONGWOOD _ There were plenty of satellite trucks and television cameras from national news outlets at a mega-church near the site where neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in February.

But just a handful of people showed up for Gov. Rick Scott’s “Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force” meeting – the first where the public will be allowed to speak – so far.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the panel’s chairwoman, spoke with reporters before the meeting began at 9 a.m.

She said the task force’s mission is not to revisit the Trayvon Martin shooting or Zimmerman’s case. Zimmerman, who was charged with second degree murder in the shooting, claimed he shot Martin in self-defense, shining a spotlight on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law that allows people to use deadly force when they feel threatened.

Carroll said the first task force meeting is being held to near Sanford to give residents “closure” in the aftermath of the shooting. National civil rights leaders were outraged that Zimmerman was not arrested for weeks. Special prosecutor Angela Corey, appointed by Scott, filed charges against Zimmerman two months after the Feb. 26 shooting. Accusations of racism because Zimmerman is a white Hispanic and Martin was black heightened racial tensions in the Central Florida community on the outskirts of Orlando.

“Because this task force was borne out of the concerns during the Martin-Zimmerman situation, we felt it would be a good thing to number one come to this area to give some closure,” Carroll, who is black, said. “There may be some people that have not had an opportunity to air their concerns during the time of all the situation going on a few months ago. So it gives an opportunity for the citizens to come and share what their issues, concerns, suggestions may be and have some closure to them having access to their public officials and individuals that may be making decisions based on what we heard throughout our public testimony and the information received on our website as well.”

The meeting begins with a presentation from Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Krista Marx, who is giving an overview of the “Stand Your Ground” law and a seminal Florida Supreme Court ruling related to it. Law enforcement officials and lawyers will also speak this morning before the public is allowed to weigh in this afternoon. Martin’s parents are scheduled to hold a rally during the lunch break and deliver more than 300,000 petitions to the task force asking that the law be changed.

The panel is holding meetings throughout the state and will make recommendations to the state legislature about whether the law should be changed.

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