November 8, 2013

Not that we're surprised, of course, but you'd think they'd have learned something from the past year.

A panel of Florida legislators voted down an attempt to repeal the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law on Thursday, in spite of impassioned testimony by the law’s critics. The Associated Press reported that the committee, chosen from among members of the Republican-controlled state legislature, voted 11-2 not to overturn the law.

Stand Your Ground laws came to national attention following the slaying of teenager Trayvon Martin at the hands of armed neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Although Zimmerman’s defense team chose not to explicitly rely on the law as part of the gunman’s trial defense, many people both for and against Stand Your Ground used the case as a springboard to bring discussion to the national level.

State Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) sponsored the repeal measure and said that Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal were what spurred him into action.

“Let’s repair the divide, whether it’s seen or unseen, that this law appears to have given our communities around the state,” Williams said in his testimony before the committee.

Republicans who voted to uphold the statute were joined by some Democrats who worried that repealing the law altogether would eliminate provisions that allow for the use of deadly force against intruders in one’s home.

Rep. Irv Slosberg, (D-Boca Raton) said that Williams’ measure goes too far, but urged his colleagues to consider amending and tweaking the current law.

“How can an unarmed citizen defend themselves against an armed lunatic with a delusional sense of danger?” Slosberg said. “Stand your ground creates a mentality of destruction and fear while reinforcing a society of violence and aggression.”

But guess what they DID pass!

While the committee vote halts the Stand Your Ground repeal movement in Florida for now, another bill that garnered overwhelming 12-1 committee support will move forward. The NRA-backed bill expands Stand Your Ground-like immunity to those who brandish or fire guns in self-defense. It has been marketed as a “warning shot bill,” capitalizing on outrage over a 20-year prison term for Marissa Alexander, who is serving a mandatory minimum sentence after firing a warning shot during a dispute with her abusive husband. But while Alexander’s conviction and sentence have been panned across the ideological spectrum as exemplifying overly punitive sentencing, racial disparity, and insensitivity to domestic abuse, the bill passed by the House Committee does much more than exempt Alexander’s conduct from such harsh punishment. In addition to giving judges some more discretion to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in the 10-20-Life law behind Alexander’s sentence, the bill expands immunity for violent conduct in as vague and sweeping a manner as Florida’s existing Stand Your Ground law, and could represent the newest mechanism for encouraging even more vigilantism.

Shame on you, Florida. It will be a very long time before I spend any of my tourist money there.

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