Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Lawmakers poised to make 'stand your ground' worse

You've heard that old joke. How do you know when a politician is lying to you? His lips are moving.

Here's an even better way to detect the fib.

When the 2018 election cycle arrives and your member of the Florida Legislature is telling everyone that he or she is a vigilant crusader for law and order, ask a simple question:

When you had the opportunity to revise Florida's ditsy "stand your ground'' law to make it even easier for the citizenry to shoot one another with less legal risk than a Kremlin assassin, how did you vote?

And if the vote was yes, you can conclude that your elected poltroon is a prevaricating, hypocritical, weasly National Rifle Association lackey. Too harsh?

This is a neat trick. The Florida Legislature is poised to take one of the nation's most stupid — and needless — laws and make it even more inane. We're number dumb!

Under two slightly varying House and Senate bills, the burden of proof would shift from defendants to prosecutors to demonstrate whether a killing was justified under the "stand your ground'' law. The Senate version would require prosecutors to prove it did not apply "beyond a reasonable doubt," while the House version only demands "clear and convincing evidence" be applied, a much lesser standard.

That would make it more difficult for police and prosecutors to determine whether a crime has been committed in situations such as road rage incidents, disputes between neighbors, domestic arguments and yes, even disagreements between drug dealers over (ahem) business relationships.

As we have seen when the badges have pleaded with Tallahassee not to pass laws regarding concealed carry of weapons because it will make their jobs more difficult and put the public at greater risk, they have been ignored and their professionalism has been disrespected.

Now with the proposed revisions to "stand your ground'' opposed by prosecutors from around the state, the Florida Legislature is sending a clear message: "We don't give a rat's patootie what you think."

Turning "stand your ground'' on its head is essentially catering to a constituency of one — the National Rifle Association and its Tallahassee grande dame of lobbying influence, Marion Hammer.

Prosecutors have warned that shifting the burden of proof will result in millions of dollars of added costs. It will increase the workloads of already strained state attorney offices. It will further add to the time it takes to try cases.

In short, the Florida Legislature doesn't care. Its only interest is appeasing she who must not be dismayed.

Michelle Gajda, who is the volunteer state chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told Kristen Clark of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau she hoped if the Legislature is myopic enough to actually pass the Deadwood Gun Act of 2017 that Gov. Rick Scott would "do the right thing" and veto the bill.

This is the Florida Legislature. This is a governor who reportedly harbors delusions about pursuing a U.S. Senate seat. As well-intentioned and right as Gujda is about what a terrible law "stand your ground'' is and how even more ludicrous it would become if the revisions are passed, it is rather unlikely Scott would risk the NRA's wrath by vetoing a measure to make it more convenient for Floridians to blast away at one another without worrying about silly stuff like being charged with murder.

This is Tallahassee, Ms. Gujda, where doing the right thing is about as rare as turning down a campaign contribution from a lobbyist. Some things just aren't done.

Besides, the governor and the Florida Legislature have other things to do. Things like posing for pictures with cops and sheriff's deputies and firefighters and prosecutors to boost their faux bona fides as hard-hitting, for the people law-and-order champions.

Pay no mind to all those gunshot victims who got on the wrong side of a tiff, or a fender bender, or a cocaine transaction, or a marital brouhaha over burnt toast, or perhaps even using a cellphone in a movie theater.

In the eyes of the Tallahassee, they had it coming.

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