Florida’s current Stand Your Ground Law, initially enacted in 2005, permits individuals to utilize deadly force in self-defense, without any obligation to retreat. Under the current law, individuals who use deadly force must defend their use of it under the law before trial.
On February 7, a bill proposed by NRA backed Florida State Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming) that would expand the Stand Your Ground law passed the Judiciary Committee by a 5-4 vote along party lines. The bill would shift the responsibility to the prosecution for why an individual “beyond a reasonable doubt” are not eligible to claim immunity under the law.
The bill, and the possibility it could pass into law given that Republicans hold the Governorship and the State Legislature, has provoked immense criticism from its opponents, who worry the bill would open Florida’s gun laws to more killings without consequence. The Miami Herald reported, “Bradley’s proposal drew immediate backlash from prosecutors and opponents of Stand Your Ground who fear the changes could flood the courts and make it easier for criminals to go unpunished. The plan also raises among critics renewed constitutional questions of double jeopardy in that requiring a burden of proof of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ would essentially force prosecutors to try a case twice, once before trial and then at trial itself.”
Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law gained national attention in 2012 when George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida, killed unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman had a record of frivolous 911 calls, and a 911 dispatcher told him not to confront Martin, who did nothing wrong but looked “suspicious” to Zimmerman. But under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Zimmerman was not arrested that night and ultimately was freed of any responsibility for murdering Trayvon Martin.
Since Zimmerman was let off the hook by the Florida Criminal Justice System, he has flaunted his overt racism over getting away with a murder that helped incite the Black Lives Matter movement across the country. In May 2016, Zimmerman attempted to sell the gun he used to kill Martin on a gun auction website. Twitter has suspended his account, but before they did, Zimmerman tweeted photos of Martin’s body, touted the Confederate Flag, and regularly posted racist memes about Barack Obama. Zimmerman has also been arrested several times since the Trayvon Martin trial, mostly for domestic violence disputes.
“He took a life, carelessly and recklessly, and he shouldn’t deserve to have his entire life walking around on the street free,” Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sylvia Fulton, told the Associated Press in a February 2016 interview. “I just believe that he should be held accountable for what he’s done. It’s just upsetting to know that a person can shoot and kill someone and justify it.” Martin’s parents recently released a book, Rest In Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin, about their experiences in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s tragic death.
Rather than taking steps to ensure that Trayvon Martin’s tragedy isn’t repeated, the state of Florida is disgracing Martin’s legacy and the lessons it should have taught by considering an expansion of the Stand Your Ground laws, which provide individuals with low-cost licenses to kill. “Stand Your Ground laws increase homicides, have no deterrent on serious crimes, result in racial disparities in the criminal justice system and impede law enforcement,”noted a 2014 report by the American Bar Association, who recommended Stand Your Ground laws across the country be repealed or heavily scaled back.
Florida is doing the opposite. In addition to Bradley’s bill to expand Stand Your Ground in Florida, 22 Florida Republican legislators have co-sponsored a companion bill with similar language, shifting the burden of overcoming the self-defense immunity from defendants to prosecutors pre-trial.