Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Opinion

Don't diminish right of self-defense

Florida has been the epicenter of national attention in recent weeks as the heartbreaking events surrounding Trayvon Martin continue to unfold. His premature death has shocked and wounded us all, beginning with his grieving parents. As our thoughts and prayers go out to them and all of those involved, we long for the facts to be sorted out and justice to prevail.

I want to commend Gov. Rick Scott for his swift and decisive action to appoint a special prosecutor. His methodical approach yielded a lawful and just path for resolution in this case. It was the right course to give the system a chance to work.

The governor also established a work group to review the "stand your ground" law. I was not in the Legislature when the bill was debated and ultimately passed, but I believe the law may have been misapplied in this case as evidenced by the actions of the special prosecutor earlier this month. I appreciate the governor's decision to involve policymakers in the process of review, because ultimately we are the branch of government that will deliberate on the matter.

The court has a responsibility to ensure the facts are presented and the case is resolved, offering the family and George Zimmerman the opportunity to receive the justice they deserve. But given the circumstances of the shooting and the way the law interplayed with the case, it is equally as important for lawmakers to pause and consider whether changes can or should be made.

As the newly appointed task force begins to review the law, I believe its work must occur within the framework of protecting Floridians' right to lawfully defend themselves. Florida's comprehensive and robust gun rights laws are not rooted in partisanship or secured by lobbyists; they are founded on the right to bear arms clearly enumerated in our U.S. Constitution and our Florida Constitution. When some pundits and activists mock our laws, they conveniently omit the undeniable reduction in violent crime rates in our state.

With the exception of a slight increase in 2006, violent crime has dropped or remained stable every year in Florida since 2000. In fact, when you add it all up, we experienced a 25 percent drop in the overall violent crime rate in Florida in the past 11 years. These are not just statistics; they represent individual lives protected from harm — one less parent who must bury a child, one less father taken from a family.

Florida and our nation grieve over the tragic loss of Trayvon Martin. Yet it is important that we do not misplace this grief at the expense of other Florida families. Watering down the right of the innocent to protect themselves from wrongdoers will only create more sorrow and pain. It is also in direct violation of our basic rights as Americans.

In the Florida House of Representatives, we will review the current law, but we must not diminish the fundamental rights afforded to every American in our Constitution. We must not give criminals the upper hand over law-abiding citizens in Florida.

Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is the incoming speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

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