TALLAHASSEE — A 19-member task force assigned to review Florida's "stand your ground" law will get its first dose of help from the public during a hearing today, just miles away from the gated community in Sanford where Trayvon Martin was fatally shot.
Members of the public will convene at Northland Church in Longwood, where they will be allowed to share their thoughts on the controversial self-defense law before a diverse group of lawmakers, police, lawyers and laymen. Nearby, gun-control advocates are expected to hold a protest against the law.
Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll chairs the task force, which was convened in the wake of national protest over police handing of Trayvon's shooting. Carroll, who voted for the "stand your ground" law in 2005, has indicated that all viewpoints will be taken into account.
"The Task Force will not restrict any one from giving public testimony," she wrote in a letter to Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, last month.
A review of hundreds of emails sent to the task force's official inbox shows widely diverging public views on the 2005 law, which allows someone who "reasonably" feels his life is in danger to use deadly force without having to retreat.
"Stand your ground must be stomped out," wrote Neal Devine of Alachua County on Sunday. "It is clear that this law shields power hungry and racist individuals, as well as perpetrators of vengeance and those taking the law in your hands leading to atrocities like in the case of Trayvon Martin."
Murray Miles of St. Petersburg sees it differently.
"Self-defense is the most fundamental human right, predating civilization itself," he wrote. "Florida's current laws regarding self-defense are just fine, and should remain as they are."
A majority of registered voters in Florida, 56 percent, support the law, according to a poll conducted last month by Quinnipiac University.
But those who oppose the law, including national gun-control groups, are using the task force's meetings as an opportunity to speak out against "stand your ground."
A group led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a coalition of civil-rights organizations has planned a rally outside the meeting.
Trayvon's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, will attend both the rally and the hearing, said Chris Brown, spokesman for the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign.
"We would like to send a message that the public is voicing outrage over reckless shoot-first laws in Florida and across the country," said Brown. "We hope they either repeal it or reform it to make it a rational law."
Trayvon, 17, was shot in February by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer for a gated-community in Sanford. Nearly two months passed before prosecutors brought second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman, who claimed he fired in self defense.
Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @ToluseO.