To Change Or Not To Change, That Question Faces Lawmakers For Stand Your Ground

Aug 30, 2013

Several Florida lawmakers are hoping to legislatively reignite the debate surrounding what should be done about the state’s Stand Your Ground law. Some hope to repeal the controversial law, while others say the law just needs some clarification. While those same measures never got a hearing this year, some lawmakers say the 2014 legislative session is the perfect time to have such a debate.

The September Hearing

The next step in the discussion comes in September when the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee holds a hearing on the law.

A vocal proponent of the self-defense law, committee chairman, Republican Representative Matt Gaetz says he doesn’t feel any changes need to be made, because there could be unintended consequences. But, he appears amenable to some sort of clarification.

“I think if we’d like to make the law clearer it might be more beneficial to invest resources in training for law enforcement and prosecutors, and maybe even judges on the legislative intent. So, we’ll be open-minded in that sense,” said Gaetz.

Clarifying the Law

But Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith says there already have been unintended consequence. That's why he says he recently refiled to clear up misunderstandings surrounding the law.

“I think when the Legislature envisioned and voted on Stand Your Ground, they didn’t envision the gang members and the aggressors being able to use this as a safety net to their bad acts. They didn’t envision law enforcement being unfamiliar and not knowing whether they can detain someone or arrest someone while they at least investigate. So, we try to clear up—it’s eight years later—some of the things we see that’s wrong with Stand Your Ground,” said Smith.

Smith’s bill includes provisions making it harder for aggressors to claim Stand Your Ground and allowing law enforcement to fully investigate such claims. That’s similar to a bill drawn up by Stand Your Ground author David Simmons. The Altamonte Springs Republican, like Smith, has re-filed a bill that never got a committee hearing during the 2013 legislative session.

Their measures also incorporate some ideas recommended by Governor Rick Scott’s Stand Your Ground task force, including guidelines for how neighborhood watch programs across the state should operate.

“Since they’re put together by local law enforcement, we believe that they should have the ability to implement certain regulations for anyone who is a member of neighborhood watch,” said Simmons.

Repealing the Law

Meanwhile, several Florida lawmakers have been calling for a repeal of the law, including Tallahassee Democratic Representative Alan Williams. He says he refiled the bill to repeal the law to "really focus the conversation on the law, and either fix it or do away with it, or start over all together.”

Still, repeal seems unlikely, and Williams says he’s willing to listen to the bills offering fixes to the law.

“I am interested in looking at the legislative proposals by Senator Smith and Senator Simmons, but at the end of the day, if I don’t think they don’t go far enough, I will continue to move the repeal of Stand Your Ground forward,” said Williams.

But Simmons says those calling for a repeal don’t understand the law.

“It’s just something that, unfortunately by virtue of a tragedy has been brought to light, and many people who don’t agree with the Zimmerman case, have latched upon something. And, it’s a piece of legislation which makes good sense, other than a few tweaks I think needs to be done, everyone acknowledges, who understands it, say it’s  necessary in a civilized society,” said Simmons.

Simmons says Smith has indicated that he and the rest of the black caucus would be willing to co-sponsor his bill. Both have also been in talks with Republican leadership to get their bills heard next year.

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