Florida tries to repeal Stand Your Ground law as Trayvon Martin anniversary nears

The law currently allows people to use deadly force without first trying to retreat

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Saturday 06 February 2021 01:05
Why you should care about #BlackLivesMatter

A state senator has introduced a bill to repeal Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use guns and other deadly force in public in self-defence without first trying to retreat, as the country nears the 9th anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, which helped inspire Black Lives Matter protests.

George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic man, shot Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, in 2012 in, Florida, and was acquitted of second-degree murder under the law. 

"We know for a fact that Stand Your Ground promotes vigilantism, it allows people to shoot first and ask questions later," Shevrin Jones said during a press conference on Thursday, introducing the bill, known as the Self-Defence Restoration Act. "More important, it puts black people and other people of color at a greater risk of gun violence.”

Announcing the proposed law, SB 1052, Mr Jones pointed to statistics from Everytown USA, a gun-control group, which found that Stand Your Ground-type laws across the country contribute to an extra 150 gun deaths each month, and that white shooters with black victims were deemed justified five times more often than the reverse.

In 2012, Mr Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer with a history of frequent 911 calls, reported spotting Martin as a suspicious person, before ignoring police instructions and leaving his car. A scuffle ensued, with Mr Zimmerman and Martin’s family claiming they acted in self-defence.  

The senator previously tried to repeal the bill in 2019 without success, and today’s effort is unlikely to make it through Florida’s Republican legislature and governor.   

Florida’s Stand Your Ground policy was signed into law in 2005 by Republican governor Jeb Bush, and political debate around the idea has not really changed since. 

The National Rifle Association, an influential gun advocacy group, was a strong backer of the bill, and governor Bush said “to retreat and put yourself in a very precarious position defies common sense."

John F Timoney, Miami's police chief at the time, slammed the policy as an unnecessary step giving people “total immunity”.

"Whether it's trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn't want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house," he told The New York Times, "you're encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn't be used."

Since its passage, local law enforcement in Florida have complained of the law’s overuse, with gang members and bar fighters claiming Stand Your Ground protections. 

Prior to the introduction of such policies, American self-defence rules were largely based on English common law, which held a right to defence inside the home, though legal historians have pointed out that such self-protections usually only applied to property-owning white men, as many states long outlawed Black people from owning guns and didn’t consider domestic violence against women grounds for self-defense even within the home. 

Joe Biden has pushed to use his slim majority in Congress to ban certain assault weapons, strengthen background checks and federal red flag laws, and restrict high capacity magazine, though that effort will also face an uphill political battle

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