The George Zimmerman murder case in Florida focused attention on the
state’s controversial ‘stand-your-ground’ law. Critics want to repeal
such laws, but that seems unlikely. At least 22 states have
By Brad Knickerbocker
Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law was the specter
hanging over the trial of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch
volunteer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Mr. Zimmerman’s legal team did not use “stand your ground” as part of
its successful defense against murder and manslaughter charges. But
the judge cited the law, chapter and verse, in her instructions to the
six-woman jury that set Zimmerman free.
Now, “stand your ground” is the focus of political and public debate –
featuring elements of gun control, race relations, and criminal
justice – over how to act in ways that prevent such deadly violence.
More than 100 cities and towns across the country held “Justice for
Trayvon” rallies Saturday at which “stand your ground” was a featured
“We are trying to change laws so that this never, ever happens again,”
civil rights activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton told the crowd in New
Speaking earlier in the week to a NAACP convention in Orlando, U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder said, “It’s time to question laws that
senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous
conflict in our neighborhoods,” an obvious reference to “stand your
In his unusual comments on race to reporters in the White House press
room Friday, President Obama was more explicit.
“If we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that
someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms
even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that
really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and
order that we’d like to see?” he asked.
In the Zimmerman case, the President continued: “If Trayvon Martin was
of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And
do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr.
Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?
And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it
seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.”
Speaking on CNN Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said a review
of what he called such “very controversial legislation” would be
After its August recess, a Senate judiciary subcommittee will hold a
hearing on “stand your ground” laws, chairman Dick Durbin (D) of
Illinois said Friday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on Constitution, civil
rights and human rights “will examine the gun lobby’s and the American
Legislative Exchange Council’s influence in creating and promoting
these laws; the way in which the laws have changed the legal
definition of self-defense; the extent to which the laws have
encouraged unnecessary shooting confrontations; and the civil rights
implications when racial profiling and ‘stand your ground’ laws mix,
along with other issues,” Sen. Durbin said in a statement.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a conservative
business and political organization that provides model legislation to
state governments. That has included “stand your ground” bills backed
by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Democrats in the Florida state legislature are pushing for repeal of
the 2005 law.
“This bill actually encourages people to shoot their way out of
situations and that’s not how we live in a civilized society,” Senate
Democratic leader Chris Smith told a news conference this past week.
“It’s a mentality that has permeated the state of Florida. It’s a
mentality of shoot first, and we should not have that in a civilized
But will any of this make much difference?
The fact that Obama weighed in about stand-your-ground laws, the focus
of those demonstrations, will help “set a tone for both direct action,
and needed dialogue,” the Rev. Sharpton told the rally in New York.
But The Associated Press has found scant support for repeal of the
laws in Florida and elsewhere.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures at least 21
states have laws similar to Florida’s (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona,
Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi,
Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma,
Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West
Virginia). Other tallies have put the number of such states closer to
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) told reporters Thursday that he agreed
with the findings of a task force he appointed on the subject after
Trayvon Martin’s shooting, which recommended no changes to the
In fact, in states with 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, the AP reports.
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.
To the NRA, questioning the legitimacy of “stand your ground” is just
one more part of the Obama administration’s effort to impose gun
controls in violation of the Second Amendment.
“The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a
concept, it’s a fundamental human right,” Chris W. Cox, executive
director NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement
responding to Holder’s remarks to the NAACP. “To send a message that
legitimate self-defense is to blame is unconscionable, and
demonstrates once again that this administration will exploit
tragedies to push their political agenda.”
Meanwhile, at least one prominent entertainer vows not to perform in
Florida and other states where “stand your ground” laws are in force.
“I decided today that until the ‘stand your ground’ law is abolished
in Florida, I will never perform there again,” Stevie Wonder told the
audience at a concert in Quebec the day after the not-guilty verdict
in the Zimmerman case was announced. “As a matter of fact, wherever I
find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part
of the world.”