“Peaden was a solid, quiet southern gentleman,” said Margolis, who favors repealing the law now. “There are people you have to worry about doing bad things as lawmakers. He wasn’t one of them.”
Another reason for the unanimous Senate support was Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, one of seven African-American senators to vote for it. Then the minority leader for the Democrats in the Senate, Lawson said Peaden’s message of self-defense resonated with him because of a 1996 home invasion in which his wife, Delores Lawson, was bound, gagged and assaulted.
“For me, it was a self-defense issue,” he said.
Lawson said he doesn’t favor repealing the law. Like most Republicans, the Democrat said it didn’t apply in the Zimmerman case. But he said he’s convinced the law should be reviewed following a Tampa Bay Times investigation last year that showed in 200 cases where “stand your ground” was used, nearly 70 percent of those who invoked “stand your ground” to avoid prosecution were successful and defendants were more likely to prevail if the victim is black.
The debate in the House was more robust. Twenty Democrats voted against it.
The bill’s sponsor was Rep. Dennis Baxley, who has been a divisive figure and is a fierce champion of the National Rifle Association.
Reps. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach and Jack Seiler of Fort Lauderdale led the Democratic opposition. Gelber later served in the Senate and ran for attorney general in 2010. Seiler is now mayor of Fort Lauderdale. Both spoke during debate of concerns that the law would lead to violence.
As a former federal prosecutor, Gelber foresaw how “stand your ground” would become perilous. On the House floor, he presciently imagined a case in which an argument escalates to the point where an armed person fires a weapon in self-defense and, protected by the law, accidentally shoots an innocent bystander.
“I simply believed it was going to create [legal] defenses that people should not be entitled to,” Gelber says now.
Seiler envisioned gang members would use the law for immunity, which has played out in a number of cases.
“I was so frustrated that it passed in the language that it passed,” Seiler said. “The way the law was written was flawed.”
House Democrats who voted against it say they still don’t understand why Senate Democrats voted for it en masse.
“I based my vote on what research there was and the testimony at the time,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who voted against it as a representative. “It was a very bad bill.”
But 12 House Democrats voted for it, including Bob Henriquez, now the Hillsborough County property appraiser, and Charlie Justice, now a Pinellas County commissioner.
“It’s hard to look back that many years ago and say we could have foreseen any of this,” said Henriquez, a conservative Democrat. “It didn’t have anything to do with the Zimmerman case. Does it have flaws? Yes, and it should be looked at. But I stand by my original vote.”
It’s not like anyone has been asking, though. Henriquez, Crist, Margolis, Legg and Lawson said they hadn’t been questioned about the legislation until now.
“No one else has asked me questions about it since I voted for it,” Lawson said. “You’re the first.”
Contact Michael Van Sickler at 850-224-7263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.