'Stand Your Ground' Law At Center of Debate After Trayvon Martin Death

"Stand Your Ground" Law at the forefront of debate in light of the Trayvon Martin case

By Ari Odzer
|  Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012  |  Updated 9:53 PM EDT
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State Senator Gwen Margolis on Tuesday said she wants the

State Senator Gwen Margolis on Tuesday said she wants the "Stand Your Ground" law repealed or modified, even though she voted for it in 2005 after Trayvon Martin's death.

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State Senator Gwen Margolis on Tuesday said she wants the "Stand Your Ground" law repealed or modified, even though she voted for it in 2005 after Trayvon Martin's death.

“I was convinced that it had nothing to do with innocent people walking around a neighborhood,” she told NBC 6.

Former state legislator Dan Gelber spoke out against the law in 2005 and still does.

"It was a bad idea. It wasn’t addressing any real problem, and I don’t think the thing should be modified or scaled back, I think it should be repealed because there was no reason to do it in the first place," Gelber said.

Gelber said a "more complete investigation" should have been done in the Trayvon Martin case.

“The problem with the stand your ground law is it doesn’t just say you have no duty to recede from an altercation before you use lethal force. It also says you cannot be arrested, it gives immunity from arrest to someone who’s in that scenario," he said.

Amid protests and a national outcry, black Democrats in the state are calling on for near immediate action, including holding a special session to consider whether to repeal the state's seven-year-old "Stand Your Ground" law which eliminated a person's duty to retreat when threatened with seriously bodily harm or death.

Martin was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman who has maintained he acted in self-defense.

Republicans — including Gov. Rick Scott — have insisted that the state should wait until ongoing investigations are completed. Last week Scott appointed a new prosecutor to handle the case and announced the creation of a task force that would look at laws related to citizen safety and protection.

The governor made it clear that he does not want the task force that will be led by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to begin its work until the criminal investigation into Martin's death has finished. His initial assignment gave the new prosecutor up to a year to finish her work.

"The task force will need to have all the facts available before it can make substantive recommendations so that tragedies like that can be avoided in the future, but they are ready to convene immediately upon the conclusion of the investigation," said Brian Burgess, a spokesman for Scott.

Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel and the incoming House speaker in November, agreed with this go slow approach.

"We have to wait and let the facts play out," Weatherford said. "It's a very sad tragedy and we feel bad for the family....You want to take your time and be deliberate."

Some legislators, however, say that delaying any further could result in additional altercations.

"They are punting, hoping this will go away when you can't make this go away when there are significant flaws in the law," said Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach.

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale and one of a handful of legislators who voted against the law in 2005, demanded the task force start its work in the next week. In a letter Smith sent to Scott, he asked that a special session be convened in the next month.

"While the special prosecutor sets about unraveling the facts in the case, and whether self-defense was a legitimate factor, the law remains intact — with all the same components still in place for more killings and additional claims of self-defense, warranted or not," Smith wrote. "...I'm sure you will agree that delaying the work of the task force — possibly up to one year or longer — suits no purpose other than to allow more tragedies to unfold."

Florida's GOP-controlled Legislature passed the "Stand Your Ground" law despite misgivings at the time from prosecutors around the state. The law — which was backed by the National Rifle Association — was passed unanimously by the Florida Senate. Only 20 Democrats in the 120-member Florida House voted no against the measure.

That law makes it clear that a law-enforcement agency can't arrest someone unless there is probable cause that there was an unlawful use of force.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala and one of the sponsors of the law, said on Tuesday that "when things have cooled off a little bit I think it's worthy to sit down and say is there legislation that is needed."

Baxley said lawmakers may need to look into how neighborhood crime watches operate or how the Stand Your Ground law has been applied. But he added that he is "very sensitive" about changing the existing law.

"I don't want to do anything to diminish our constituents from protecting themselves from harm," Baxley said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dwight Bullard wore a hoodie in the Florida House on Tuesday during the special session on redisticting, according to the Florida News Service. He said he wanted to show support for the Martin family, and to say the law needs to be changed.

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