Why Stand-Ground Laws May Not Go Away

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Florida state Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said the Zimmerman verdict was a “wakeup call” that should at least open fresh debate on stand-your-ground laws.

He noted that in the wake of the 2011 acquittal of Casey Anthony in the killing of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, Florida lawmakers passed legislation making it a felony for a parent or guardian to fail to report a missing child within 36 hours. Caylee’s disappearance was not reported for 31 days.

“We are calling for the same type of action,” Smith said.

But The Associated Press has found scant support for repeal of the laws in Florida and elsewhere. Scott told reporters Thursday that he agreed with the findings of a task force he appointed on the subject after Martin’s shooting, which recommended no changes to the stand-your-ground law. Of the protesters in his Capitol office, Scott said, “I think it is great that people are exercising their voices.”

After Holder’s speech, the National Rifle Association, which strongly backs stand-your-ground laws and holds great sway in many state legislatures, issued a statement claiming that Obama’s administration was aiming more at the broader political goal of restricting gun rights.

“The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept, it’s a fundamental human right,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “To send a message that legitimate self-defense is to blame is unconscionable.”

In fact, in states with stand-your-ground laws similar to Florida’s, the trend has been toward greater gun rights. In Oklahoma, for example, lawmakers in 2012 passed an “open-carry” measure that allows people with a concealed carry permit to now display their handguns openly in a holster. Other states have sought to expand what are known as “castle doctrine” laws — the right to defend one’s self with deadly force in the home — to apply to businesses.

New Hampshire lawmakers this year considered repealing the state’s-stand-your ground law, which was enacted in 2011 by a Republican Legislature over a Democratic governor’s veto. After narrowly passing the Democratic-led House in March, the bill died in the Republican-led Senate.

Holder also announced this week that the Justice Department would investigate whether Zimmerman could be charged under federal civil rights laws, which would require evidence that he harbored racial animosity against Martin. Most legal experts say that will be a difficult charge to bring, leaving Martin’s supporters to concentrate on trying to change stand-your-ground laws.

Republican Sen. John McCain joined the call on stand-your-ground laws Sunday, urging state legislatures to review their statutes — including the one in his home state of Arizona.

“I’m confident that the members of the Arizona legislature will … because it is a very controversial legislation,” he said on CNN.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, appeared Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and called the laws “one of the things that has incited and ignited, I believe, this movement across the nation, which I think is the beginning of a new civil rights movement.”

Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said during the show that the question now is whether it’s proper for the federal government to tell states with stand-your-ground laws how to change or remake them. His answer: “No. I mean, this is something that’s going to have to be worked out state by state.”

Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor who taught both Barack and Michelle Obama, agreed: “The reality is that this is not a federal issue. This is a state issue.”

(Photo: AP)

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