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Smith launches task force to delve into "Stand Your Ground"

A state senator is launching his own task force to study Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. James Call reports, Fort Lauderdale Senator Chris Smith says Florida’s reputation can’t afford to wait for the governor to act.

The February shooting death of Trayvon Martin has focused media attention on a Florida law allowing people to respond with deadly force if they feel threatened. Smith, a south Florida Democrat, says the national uproar is a threat to Florida’s tourism-based economy.

"As I appear on different talk shows around the country I received numerous people calling into these talk shows from Washington D.C. to Chicago to LA saying that 'I’m reconsidering coming to Florida. You have this law on the books and I can be shot walking back to my hotel in Orlando and that people now have a shoot first mentality in Florida. I may not come to Florida', well that’s a problem."

Martin was 17 and unarmed when he died following an altercation with a neighborhood watch volunteer. In the wake of his death, Governor Rick Scott announced he was forming a task force to review the 2005 law permitting the use of deadly force. However, Scott said his task force would not interfere with the investigation into Martin’s death.

"The first thing that you do is do an investigation. You make sure that justice prevails. Then you step back and say,' Okay, what did we learn from this?' That is the right way to do it."

Smith says there is eight years of data for legal experts to study. He says a task force can do its work without including the Martin case.

"The judges that are going to come to present have had in the tens of cases of Stand Your Ground.   [The] Trayvon Martin case may be an outlier when it comes to stand your ground.  We need a serious look at the entire statue and you don’t need the Trayvon Martin case to take a look at the statue. This has been a concern. In 2008 when you had gangs shooting at each other here in Tallahassee and Willie Meggs, the state attorney, was unable to prosecute,  he sounded the horn that we need to look at stand your ground."

Smith invited the state attorneys and public defenders from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties to join his task force. The Democratic-dominated group also includes former federal prosecutors. It will hold a meeting Thursday in Fort Lauderdale. Smith says the group will identify problems in the law and make recommendations on how to fix it.

"Some of those fears are valid. And that is why it is time for us to act and show the nation the parameters of what a civilized society is in Florida. We have to let Floridians, the nation, the world know that these are the parameters of what we consider a civilized society in Florida. This is how we expect you to conduct yourself in Florida."

Smith’s Stand Your Ground Task Force will convent Thursday at the Broward County Main Library. It is accepting public comments at: Floridastandyourground.org.  Smith is also calling for a special legislative session to address problems with the law.