TALLAHASSEE -- Florida has become a broad national target for its “stand your ground” law since the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman.
The Daily Show mocked Florida as “the worst state.” A protest group entering its third week staging a sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office has gained fans in England and Japan. And the law has sparked a rebuke from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who said it may encourage “violent situations to escalate.”
But while the “Gunshine State” finds itself in the cross hairs of world public opinion, the lawmakers who approved “stand your ground” in 2005 have received little, if any, electoral blowback.
“It’s not been a campaign issue,” said Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, who voted for it as a representative. “It’s not like homeowners insurance or nuclear recovery costs.”
Current state lawmakers who voted for “stand your ground” outnumber those who opposed it by a 4-1 margin.
Republicans who approved it are unapologetic. Not one would repeal it now.
“It’s never come up on the campaign trail, pro or con,” said former Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, who now serves as a Hillsborough County commissioner. “The firearm abolitionists are stirring the pot, using ‘stand your ground’ as a platform to eliminate guns.”
Democrats are far less unified. When SB 436 was signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush on April 26, 2005, it enjoyed solid bipartisan support. It passed the Senate 39-0, a tally that included 14 Democrats, such as 2014 gubernatorial hopeful Nan Rich.
“I voted based on what I thought was the intent of the law,” Rich said. “Obviously, if I knew then what I know about how the law was implemented, I would not have voted for that.”
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, voted for it as a state senator, but in February issued a resolution urging the repeal of “stand your ground.” At a Miami rally following the Zimmerman verdict, Wilson told a crowd: “This legislation is so difficult to even decipher what it means. It applies to some cases, doesn’t apply to another case. The Justice Department is confused. The legislators are confused. Everybody’s confused.”
She didn’t return messages asking about her earlier support of the law.
Of the 133 lawmakers who voted for the legislation, 48 hold elected office today. A state representative from Miami became U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Eight others went on to Congress, where five still serve. State Sen. Jeff Atwater is Florida’s chief financial officer. State representatives Jeff Kottkamp and Jennifer Carroll ascended to lieutenant governor. Of the 94 representatives who approved it in the Florida House, 16 graduated to the state Senate.
Until the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, some hadn’t reconsidered their votes. Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Aventura, said she had to look up the roll call on the Web to remember how she voted.
“When Trayvon was shot, the first thing I did was check my vote,” Margolis said. “It didn’t sound like something I voted for, but when I saw it, I was absolutely amazed. It was just one of those things, where it sounded reasonable, but wasn’t.”
Margolis and Rich said the bill breezed through the Senate with minimal discussion partly because of the reputation of its sponsor — Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview.