I’m supposed to be in Florida next week. There’s a media convention in town, and I have friends who live nearby in Orlando. In fact, my closest friends live in Florida. Two of my three children were born in Miami, and my husband and I spent our honeymoon, bought our first home and raised the kids there during some of the most significant times in their lives. They still talk to their South Florida friends almost daily on Facebook.
Florida for us was soccer practice and games on Saturdays, trips to the pool and the beach. (Though not as often as you’d think because, man, is it hot!)
I started my career in news there, and it was where I worked on my first campaign, and my second — the whirlwind weeks I spent as a press aide to Barack Obama’s history-making 2008 campaign. People often forget that I’m Brooklyn-born and Denver-raised. “You’re from Florida, right?” is as common a question for me as “is it Joy or Joy-Ann?”
But right now, I’m giving Florida a rest. I’m not joining a mass boycott, just a personal one. And it’s not because I simply don’t like the outcome of a particular second-degree murder trial. Like Stevie Wonder, I’m making a decision for me.
I’m quitting Florida tourism for now, because my conscience won’t let me travel to a state that I love, but where it’s not safe for my sons to walk the streets. In Florida, and 22 other states with similar laws, but particularly in Florida because of how Stand Your Ground was written, anyone who finds you threatening has a license to shoot you, based solely on the perception in their mind that you were threatening to hurt them. You don’t even have to actually hurt them. As long as a jury of as few as six people believe it was reasonable for them to fear you, they will walk.
There are caveats in Marion Hammer’s Wild West law. (The NRA super-lobbyist stood over then-Gov. Jeb Bush as he signed the Stand Your Ground bill into law in 2005.) Under the law, if someone shoots you, they’re going to need to make sure you’re dead, so they’d probably better kill the witnesses, too. And it probably helps the shooter if you’re black. A Tampa Bay Times study found that Stand Your Ground claims were successful 73 percent of the time when the victim was black (regardless of the race of the shooter) and 56 percent of the time when the victim was white.
Since the law passed, the number of “justifiable homicides” in Florida has tripled, and the number of concealed-carry permits has ballooned to 1.5 million people. That’s one in 17 adults. Police organizations vociferously opposed the law, but their voices were nothing compared with Pistol-Packing Marion and her bottomless pocket full of ideas for laws that make carrying guns less legally risky for gun owners, and more risky for anyone unfortunate enough to freak them out.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which altered the jury instructions in the George Zimmerman trial, has been used more than 200 times as an affirmative defense in murder trials. It has become the preferred defense of gang members, drug dealers, pissed-off neighbors, a kid who suspected someone of stealing his ATV and a 72-year-old who shot dead a Seventh Day Adventist who was behaving erratically in a parking lot.
It has been used by a man who chased another man down and shot him execution style while the victim was lying on his back. A judge in Leon County, Terry P. Lewis, said in 2010 that thanks to Stand Your Ground, rival gangs could engage in an OK Corral-style shootout on the streets in broad daylight, and since gangs have good reason to fear each other, everyone could walk.
It will be the defense of Michael Dunn, who unloaded his 9mm into an SUV carrying four teenagers who upset him with their loud hip-hop music, and who told police he thought they were a bunch of gang members who raised a gun at him. No gun was found, and 17-year-old Jordan Davis is dead. After the shooting, Dunn and girlfriend went back to their hotel and got a pizza.
And why not? In Marion’s world, it’s shoot first, ask questions later, and have pepperoni with that.
Hammer, Florida’s former NRA chief and super lobbyist, has turned Florida into a state that’s unsafe for children and for politicians with a spine. No one — Republican or Democrat — has the guts to stand up to her.
But I wish someone would. At 77, Marion probably doesn’t have to worry about scaring some Nervous Nellie with an itchy trigger finger. But lots of parents like my husband and me are worried. And for now, I’m steering clear of the state that Marion built.