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Influential national group halts push for 'stand your ground' laws

TALLAHASSEE — The organization that helped spread Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law across the country is halting its push for gun rights in the wake of the national outcry over Trayvon Martin's shooting death.

The American Legislative Exchange Council said Tuesday that it would shift focus from social to economic issues, abandoning causes like gun rights and voter identification laws.

"Today we are redoubling our efforts on the economic front, a priority that has been the hallmark of our organization for decades," ALEC national chairman and Indiana state lawmaker David Frizzell said in a statement. "We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy."

Sparked by several defections by a number of large companies in recent weeks, ALEC's announcement signaled a major about-face for an organization that wielded considerable sway in changing the way 25 states deal with deadly encounters and self-defense.

ALEC, an organization of hundreds of state legislators and private companies, also supported the recent wave of voting law changes that critics decry as voter suppression.

"The American public has wised up to ALEC's misguided and secretive attempts to co-opt state legislators for corporate profit," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. "In folding its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, ALEC is abandoning under pressure the most controversial part of its agenda; that's an important victory for the American public."

In 2005, the National Rifle Association — a strong ALEC supporter — helped usher the "stand your ground" law through Florida's Legislature, broadening the state's self-defense provisions to shield people who use deadly force outside of their homes.

The NRA celebrated the law's passage in Florida, and immediately set its sight on spreading the provision nationwide. The group's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, told the Washington Post in 2005 that the Florida Legislature represented the "first step of a multi-state strategy."

After Gov. Jeb Bush signed the bill, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer kicked off the multistate plan, pitching the "stand your ground" law language to ALEC during a closed-door meeting, where members drafted model laws for other state legislatures.

Within a year, nearly a dozen states, from Alabama to Oklahoma, had passed legislation similar or identical to Florida's new statute, with ALEC and the NRA working behind the scenes.

"After 2005, the 'stand your ground' law jumped into 15 other states, overnight practically," said Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "And ALEC was right there."

The NRA has spent more than $2 million on political contributions at the state level since 2005, with Florida receiving a large chunk, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics records.

As the money flowed into state legislatures, more and more states adopted ALEC's "stand your ground" language in lopsided, bipartisan votes.

By the time 17-year-old Trayvon was shot dead Feb. 26 in Sanford, 25 states had created "stand your ground" laws, and the statute had been used in more than 100 cases in Florida.

Since Trayvon's death, Florida's "stand your ground" law has been lambasted by national commentators and editorial boards across the country. Gov. Rick Scott created a task force to review the law, and some state lawmakers vowed to repeal it all together next year.

"Now that the Trayvon Martin case is out there, the concern is how many copycats are we going to get?" said Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, who created a task force to review the law. "Now is really a time to look at this law."

That national spotlight turned to ALEC in recent weeks, with interest groups and media outlets highlighting the group's role in spreading the law across the nation.

Organized campaigns by left-leaning groups targeted ALEC's corporate members like Coca Cola, McDonalds and Johnson & Johnson. Several of those companies have since cut ties with the organization in recent weeks. ColorOfChange, an online civil rights group, led much of the charge.

ALEC called it a "coordinated intimidation campaign," and criticized members of the media and interest groups who put pressure on its corporate members.

"In the end, we will always respect people who disagree with us in matters of policy, but it is simply wrong to try to score political points by taking advantage of a great tragedy like Trayvon Martin's death," the group said last month in a statement.

While some groups welcomed ALEC's move, others said it was not enough and pushed for a full repeal of the "stand your ground" law.

"A simple disavowal of their misguided activities will be insufficient to correct the damage they have caused," Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League, said in a statement. "We call upon ALEC to lead the charge on our campaign to reform or repeal these laws."

Influential national group halts push for 'stand your ground' laws 04/17/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 9:26am]
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