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“Stand Your Ground” Task Force Stirs Controversy

Sybrina Fulton

Last week Governor Rick Scott’s “Stand Your Ground” task force released its recommendations on the future of the law here in Florida.  The group said the law should stay on the books, but suggests more education on what self-defense really means and stricter definitions for neighborhood watch groups.   Although the suggestions didn’t surprise many, the outcome doesn’t spell the end for the issue.

The 19 panel members ranged from lawyers and community watchman to religious leaders and lawmakers.   Some of those lawmakers helped craft the initial policy that was under review.  And that, said Representative Alan Williams, may have changed the group’s conversation and the outcome.

“Quite possibly, if you have lawmakers who have some dissent or disagreement with the current law then maybe they would have given the opportunity, I know for example Senator Chris Smith, who currently has a bill to amend the Stand Your Ground law requested to be on that taskforce, but was not placed on the task force,” Williams said.

However, Representative Dennis Baxley, the taskforce member who sponsored the initial legislation, says there was plenty of diversity on the board.  Furthermore, Baxley said questioning the makeup of the panel is out of line.

“I think it is inappropriate to question the Governor’s appointments on the taskforce,” Baxley said.

But political scientist Susan MacManus, from the University of South Florida, said there will always be speculation on that “what if” factor, that’s just what she calls political gaming. She also said it’s not uncommon to have the law’s writers on these taskforces, since they know the law inside and out.  According to MacManus, a taskforces like this has the power to thrust more attention onto the issue and start a conversation, whether people agree with the findings or not.

“Certainly any kind of task force which lays out the issues can be helpful, even to opponents of the final report,” MacManus explained.

MacManus said recent massacres like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have made the gun issue more complex.

“The heinousness of it, and the shooting of small kids at school, really pushed Americans to focus on guns in a different way, and that would be true in Florida as well,” she said.

Lawmakers like Representative Williams have noted that these recommendations from the taskforce as just that, recommendations, and that in the end the burden falls on the legislature to make any changes to the law.  Officials like Senator Chris Smith have put forth legislation altering the current Stand Your Ground policy, which are making their way through the Capitol for this session.  Tuesday marks the one year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, the shooting that sparked the creation of the taskforce.  George Zimmerman, Martin’s accused murderer is set to stand trial in June.

For more news and information from Steven Rodriguez follow @StevenFPR on twitter.