Two Florida lawmakers are hoping to revive a bill that failed during the past legislative session repealing Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. But, some say the law should remain intact and see it as a waste of time.
It was in late 2013 when Rep. Alan Williams’ (R-Tallahassee) got a five hour hearing for his bill to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
It was the second year in a row he’d filed the legislation, and he pleaded with lawmakers on the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee to move the bill forward.
“Let’s repeal and start over,” stated Williams, at the time. “Let’s repair the broken hearts that so many families are feeling right now because they have lost loved ones.”
But, the House panel rejected that plea, and the measure failed on a bipartisan vote 11-2. Still, despite the bill’s failure, Williams says he’s not giving up—which is why he filed the same measure again earlier this month.
“Because although it may not be a good idea today, 20 years ago having a car seat in the back of the car wasn’t necessarily the idea that everybody was supporting. Now, it’s a requirement. Right? Texting while driving was a bill—just like all these other ones—were bills that never got heard, never got the majority’s support. They were all legislative proposals, like the repeal of Stand Your Ground that, at some point, caught fire, and say we need to do something,” said Williams.
He says it's especially pressing because the question over the law came up in the Florida Supreme Court.
“What really got me going in this direction was this past fall, the Supreme Court had heard a case that even they had some concerns about how Stand Your Ground is applied, and they referenced our debate in committee on the floor last year—that there is still some ambiguity in the law.”
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law removes a person’s duty to retreat before using force in certain instances outside one’s home. It also provides immunity for those who are found to have lawfully used force in self-defense. And, Williams says drug dealers and gang members are using the law too.
“When is it going to take us to say, ‘this is not right,’” asked Williams. “Do we have to have a stray bullet from one of the gang members in a shootout, hit a five-year-old, a two-year-old, a grandmother, a single mom, a pastor? When do we say enough is enough? And, not have someone held accountable.”
So, Williams’ says it’s worth it to start over, and he adds with the repeal, the Castle Doctrine would still be in place. It states there is no duty to retreat before using force when in one’s home.
“You now have to ensure that you are not going about—in some cases—in a vigilante-style manner,” said Williams. “You know, I’m a fierce advocate of the 2nd Amendment and I’m a concealed weapons permit carrier. And, so, I don’t want to take any of those rights away. But, what I do want to do is to make sure we’re keeping our communities safe. And, when we have cases, where folks are in rage or anger, or whatever the case may be, going out killing folks, and then say, ‘oh, I felt threatened, I felt my life was in danger’ when there was no sign of threat or danger, we have a problem.”
Williams says he’s in talks to get the bill heard again.
Meanwhile, his Senate sponsor, Orlando Democrat Geraldine Thompson, says she hasn’t yet talked to anyone in the Senate about getting the bill heard, but she does want it to be taken up this year.
“I think it deserves discussion,” said Thompson. “We need to have a healthy debate about the law as it exists now and whether or not it is contributing to the deaths that we’ve seen particularly among young African American males. Given what’s happened nationwide in New York, in Ferguson, Missouri, and certainly in Florida, that we should examine these laws and protect all of the citizens in the state of Florida.”
But, the National Rifle Association’s Marion Hammer—an avid supporter of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law who also helped write the law—says if the bill does have any hearings this year, “we of course will oppose that again.”
Hammer says it makes no sense to bring it up again, after a panel of Democrats and Republicans already opposed the bill “overwhelmingly.”
That House panel was led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach), who says his views on Stand Your Ground haven’t changed.
“Yeah, I’m a big supporter of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law,” said Gaetz. “I think that strong self-defense laws make the citizens of our state safer, and it’s my expectation that Florida will continue to be on the side of the victim and not on the side of the attacker.”
So, given the bill failed on an earlier bipartisan vote, does he feel filing it again is a waste of time?
“Oh, I don’t believe the introduction of any legislation is a waste of time,” answered Gaetz. “I think that if someone is sent here by 156,000 people, they have an obligation to speak for their constituents. Representative Williams does an excellent job of that, but I think the assumption he makes about self-defense are inaccurate, and I think that’s a view that’s held by a majority of the legislature.”
Meanwhile, the farthest both the House and Senate bills have gotten so far is referral to their respective committees.
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