On April 26, 2005, Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed the Protection of Persons Act (see here for legislative history) into law, which “expanded an individual's legal right to use force in self-defense, including deadly force, without fear of criminal or civil consequences.” The law was passed unanimously by the Florida Senate and overwhelmingly by the Florida House. Both state law enforcement officials and prosecutors expressed opposition to the law, but the heavy involvement of the NRA resulted in decisive passage, a success which spurred the NRA to pursue similar laws all over the country.
Under this law, Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, has a legal defense for the killing of the 17-year old boy. In hindsight, a lot of the arguments and rhetoric of the law appears in a different light and can give us better insight into what arguments are real and what the consequences of various political pressures really are. It all sounds very different reading it today.
The following people promoted and passed Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' Law:
1) Rep. Dennis K. Baxley, sponsored the bill
Florida Representative Dennis K. Baxley, the bill's sponsor, said that the law would "curb violent crime and make the citizens of Florida safer," and that the law is "a clear position that we will stand with victims of violent attacks when the law is in their favor."
2) Former NRA President Marion Hammer lobbied for the bill
Former NRA President Marion Hammer who lobbied heavily for the bill, said that prosecutors had been too aggressive in going after homeowners who shoot to defend their lives and homes."' She said, "Prosecutors are always looking for somebody to prosecute and too often it's the victim. [The prosecutors] are part of the problem.”
3) Former Gov. Jeb Bush signed the bill into law
Governor Bush weighed in too. He said, "to have to retreat and put yourself in a very precarious position defies common sense.”
Meanwhile, the following people were against the bill:
A few members of the State House were against this bill: “Florida House Representative Dan Gelber, one of the only 20 representatives who voted against the bill, stated that "[i]t legalizes dueling. It legalizes fighting to the point of death, without anybody having a duty to retreat.”
State Attorney Barry Krischer, in 2007 said “I dislike the law because it encourages people to stand their ground ... when they could just as easily walk away. To me, that's not a civilized society.” That comment looks pretty good in retrospect.
Michael Salnick, another Florida defense attorney, said something similar: "What's scary is ... there is always the issue of a stray bullet killing somebody...I'd like to think we're not going to have a version of the Old West in our community."
Paul A. Logli, president of the National District Attorneys Association, voiced his opinion of the law when he said, "[The 'Stand Your Ground' laws] basically giv[e] citizens more rights to use deadly force than we give police officers, and with less review."
State Attorney Willie Meggs predicted almost this exact situation.
Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs said he believed that the “law will protect individuals the legislature did not intend to shield." Meggs stated that "[a]ll this may do is give a legal defense to a bad person who would otherwise be prosecuted. The person who is dead doesn't get to say what they were going to do." This prediction came true.
Former Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney publicly worried about the danger to kids.
Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney said in 2005 that "Whether it's trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn't want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house ... [the law is] encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn't be used.”
The interesting thing is that none of these people contemplated, or foresaw, the fact that racial stereotypes can amplify aggressive tendencies. Thus we have a Trayvon Martin situation.
Anyway, these people were all ignored and the law was seen as a great success.
After the passage of the law in 2005, then NRA executive VP Wayne LaPierre said that the victory was the first step of a “multi-state strategy,” and that “There's a big tailwind we have, moving from state legislature to state legislature...the South, the Midwest, everything they call 'flyover land' -- if John Kerry held a shotgun in that state, we can pass this law in that state."
This article heavily cited a law review article by Zachary Weaver.
Photo Credit: StevenM_61