TALLAHASSEE -- Created in the wake of national uproar over Trayvon Martin’s shooting death, a 19-member task force spent six months traveling the state and taking public testimony about Florida’s most controversial self-defense law.
The result? Little, if anything, will change.
The task force commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott to review the Stand Your Ground law prepared its final report Tuesday, indicating that the law is mostly fine as it is.
In a report to the Legislature, the group offered up only minor tweaks to the Stand Your Ground law — including changes that could actually make it easier to claim self-defense after killing someone.
“We reaffirm the validity of the legislation that was enacted in 2005 and the importance of the ability of a truly innocent victim to be able to stand his or her ground” if they are attacked, said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who helped draft the law.
The report sparked immediate criticism from gun control advocates and some lawmakers.
“I didn’t expect anything. I really truly didn’t expect anything,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens. “It was a Republican-dominated commission and it was full of people who supported Stand Your Ground to begin with.”
Ultimately, the task force’s final report asks the Legislature, the courts system and the law enforcement community to review the law further to make sure it is applied equally and fairly.
The Citizen Safety and Protection Task Force was commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott in April after Trayvon, a 17-year-old teenager from Miami Gardens, was shot dead by a Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer. Citing the Stand Your Ground law, police originally declined to charge the shooter, George Zimmerman, sparking nationwide protests. Zimmerman was eventually arrested, and is awaiting trial on second-degree murder charges.
Passed in 2005 and backed by the National Rifle Association, the Stand Your Ground law grants legal immunity to people who use deadly force if they reasonably believe their life is in danger.
Two dozen states have passed similar laws since 2005, and several studies show that so-called “justifiable homicides” have increased significantly in the places that have enacted stand your ground laws. Reports have also shown that the law has had disparate impacts on racial minorities, and many of the people who have successfully used it are ex-felons.
Those studies were not incorporated into the task force’s final recommendations, though the group urged the Legislature to fund a Florida-based study.
“They systematically decided not to review those studies,” said Ginny Simmons, executive director of the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “We presented them in September, we’ve mailed them to the task force, we printed them out and presented them again today.”
The task force held seven public meetings in different parts of the state to hear recommendations from experts and members of the public. Floridians who spoke during the meetings were often emotional about the law, with many speaking of loved ones who had been killed by people who later successfully claimed self-defense.
More than 10,000 of people wrote letters and emails to the task force, either defending the law or condemning it.