Longwood, FL -- The parents of slain teen Trayvon Martin asked the state task force reviewing Florida’s controversial self-defense law to revise it and make it harder for someone who starts a fight to end it with deadly force.
They call their proposed revision “The Trayvon Martin Amendment.”
The Florida Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection held its first public hearing Tuesday near Sanford, the Central Florida town where the unarmed Miami Gardens teenager was gunned down by a man who claimed self defense.
The national fracas the case spawned also triggered a reflection on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, a 2005 statute that eliminated a person’s duty to retreat when in fear of death or bodily injury. The law exists in some form in 26 states, and although backed by gun owners and a majority of voters, it has been panned for its inconsistent application.
Gov. Rick Scott created the 19-member panel, made up of prosecutors, lawmakers, sheriffs and other interested parties, with the goal of reviewing the state’s self-defense law. The panel has already been criticized for being stacked with lawmakers who favor gun rights, including the legislator who first sponsored the Stand Your Ground law.
Among its members is Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle.
At an all-day hearing Tuesday, dozens of widows, grieving mothers, veterans, crime victims and gun owners took the podium to urge the panel to change the law, dump it, or leave it as is. Many speakers urged the panel not to be influenced by politics or the media, and criticized the task force for taking on a case that has yet to be decided by the courts.
Speakers included Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, who together with the Second Chance Campaign presented the task force with 375,000 signatures of people who want the law reformed.
“I am not saying get rid of it. Please amend it, review it,” Fulton said, stressing that her father was a Miami police officer who kept a gun in the house. “I do not have anything against weapons. I grew up with a weapon in the house.”
Her attorney, Benjamin Crump, proposed the Trayvon Martin Amendment, saying that, as it stands now, the law encourages aggressors to shoot to kill and not leave any witnesses.
“You cannot initiate a confrontation and then turn around and say you are standing your ground,” Crump said.
At first, Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, was not arrested, because police said the law offers immunity to people who kill in self defense and an arrest would have been illegal. But prosecutors later charged him with second-degree murder.
The law offers immunity to anyone who kills in self defense, but task force member Circuit Judge Krista Marx noted that immunity can only be bestowed by a judge — no matter how the law is worded.
She kicked off the hearing with a presentation of cases where Stand Your Ground was used, and different ways the laws has caused problems for law enforcement because of imprecise wording.
The law applies only to a person who is in a place where he or she has a right to be and is not committing a crime, but the law is unclear on spelling out criminal activity and probably needs to be clarified, the judge said. A provoker should not be able to avail himself of Stand Your Ground, unless the person had no way to escape or had tried to retreat and the attack continued, she added.