After a legislative bid to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law failed this week, the focus now turns to whether opponents of the existing law will now throw their weight behind a proposal aimed at tweaking the law.
Thursday’s five-hour hearing saw each side literally going back and forth between the pros and cons of Stand Your Ground. Law enforcement agencies opposed the repeal, including Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley.
“Are you going to steal my TV or my radio, or other belongings? Or are you going to rape, rob, or murder me? We don’t have the time to figure out do we have the right to defend ourselves. There’s presumption that you have a right to defend yourself, not only in your home, but in your neighborhood, the mall, anywhere you have a lawful right to be. And, Florida Sheriff’s Association stand behind this law and oppose a repeal of it,” said Ashley.
Others, like Ron Davis, were not sure whether they’d like a repeal or a rewrite of the law, but Davis says lawmakers have a responsibility to take the existing law off the books. His son Jordan was killed last year in Jacksonville by a man who’s now using Stand Your Ground in his defense.
“When you think that people are reasonable and you give them an out, you give them a way to say ‘if there are no witnesses, I can do this’ and all they’re going to ask for is ‘what is in the mind of the shooter?’ because the victim has no story. So, they’re going to make up the story that they want to make up. So, that’s what you have to think of when you make these laws or you rewrite these laws, is we’re looking into the shooter’s mind," said Ron Davis.
Still, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted down Tallahassee Representative Alan Williams repeal bill by an overwhelming 11-2 margin. That wasn’t surprising to the two Democratic leaders in either chamber.
“It feels pre-determined. It seems that there are people on the committee who are pre-determined to vote against the bill,” said Fort Lauderdale Senator Chris Smith, speaking before the hearing's end.
“We don’t know exactly what they’re going to do, probably not a damn thing,” said House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, forecasting the vote’s outcome during a press conference in the days leading up to the hearing.
Thurston says instead of hearings that go nowhere, lawmakers should do what Floridians want: make changes to the existing law, as in a proposal authored by Smith and Altamonte Springs Republican David Simmons.
“It’s a discussion about: what are the state attorney’s saying? What are law enforcement saying? What changes would they like to see come about? And, I think that’s the adult and professional way of handling this bill, not to have individuals come out and sound the alarm about keeping it and getting rid of it,” Thurston added.
But, the proposal—already moving through the Senate—has a hurdle: Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, who chairs the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee and sets the agenda. A staunch proponent of Stand Your Ground, he’s repeatedly said the bipartisan fix lacks substance. Still, following the hearing, Gaetz said he’s not ruling anything out.
“Well, this is the Florida Legislature. We haven’t begun our legislative Session. So, hope springs eternal for everyone. Now, of course, the bill filing deadline has not concluded, so if there’s a substantive way to keep the duty to Stand Your Ground in place. Then, I think of course, we’ll always review laws as they’re written, presented, and in the possession of our committee,” said Gaetz.
Meanwhile, Smith says he remains hopeful Gaetz will hear his bill in the House.
“Well, we talked briefly, and then, we’re looking to talk after this, to continue the discussion. Today was their [the House] first bite at the apple, but I’ve been in contact with him [Gaetz] to continue the discussion. Today is not the last day the House should visit Stand Your Ground and its provisions.”
As for the sponsor of the repealer bill, Alan Williams says he’s not giving up on putting an end to the existing law, though he's now taking a different avenue.
“Obviously, we’ve heard from the committee that at least this year in this House, we won’t have a repeal bill. I think if we can’t repeal it, then we must repair it, and that’s been my argument all along. And, I think we owe it to the citizens of the state, to make sure we have, if not a perfect law, a better law,” said Williams.
Williams says he now intends to work with Smith, Simmons, and all parties involved toward passing the Stand Your Ground amendment proposal.
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