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One law, many views. How do we fix 'stand your ground'?

With three children under the age of 13 in his home, a father has a message for the task force that will begin reviewing the state's public safety laws today.

"Nobody in this house will be a victim in the middle of the night,'' he says. "If you break into my home, someone else will carry you out.

"I love the idea that the law allows us to protect ourselves.''

• • •

With a son recently shot to death during a traffic confrontation gone horribly wrong, a father is hopeful that the governor's task force will take a long, hard look at the state's "stand your ground'' law in Tallahassee today.

"There are so many unclear areas with this law that allow the person left alive to claim they were standing their ground,'' he says. "They could have been poking, prodding, provoking and pushing another person to their limit.

"And then they claim self-defense when they kill them.''

• • •

Which argument do you prefer?

The one from the father protecting his small children or the one from the father grieving for his adult son?

This is the challenge facing the governor's task force today — dissecting a law that was created in the name of public safety but has the potential to escalate violence.

No matter where your loyalties lie, there is no perfect solution. Even if you disagree with the law, it is still hard to argue against the concept of self-defense. And if you are a staunch supporter of "stand your ground,'' you have to admit loopholes do exist.

The question is, what to do with an imperfect law? Wipe it off the books? Tighten the loopholes? Leave it alone?

An independent task force created by state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, recommended an overhaul of the law Monday, but the group of legislators, lawyers and law enforcement officials could not agree on whether it should be repealed.

The basic problem — and the heart of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case — is figuring out when an aggressor becomes a victim and vice versa.

A week ago, state Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, was certain the law did not apply for Zimmerman because evidence suggested he instigated the confrontation by following Martin. Frishe, who supports the law, now concedes that Zimmerman might have a defense if he proves he tried to withdraw from the confrontation after initially provoking it.

It is part of the conundrum of a law known as "stand your ground'' that you are permitted to be the aggressor as long as you later retreat.

"There are some hoops you have to jump through if you start out as the aggressor,'' Frishe said. "I think that's why Zimmerman was charged.''

And so we're back to our original premise. Do you side with the father who says the law has merit or the one who believes it is ripe for abuse?

And does it matter that Kevin Lindsay is the father in both cases?

His son Brandon Baker confronted a driver who was tailgating him in Palm Harbor and was pepper sprayed and shot after allegedly punching the other driver through an open window.

"It's a bittersweet law, an odd coupling of ideas,'' Lindsay said. "I agree with the philosophy, but it needs to be picked apart and fixed.''

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com.

One law, many views. How do we fix 'stand your ground'? 04/30/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 7:10am]
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