President Barack Obama is talking about it, and so is the attorney general. There are marches in Florida and across the country, and protesters have been camped inside the state Capitol for more than a week. Yet Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature's Republican leaders continue to defend the indefensible "stand your ground" law. That is not a winning strategy for Florida's national image, its economy or the safety of its residents.
The not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial two weeks ago sparked more outrage over the 2005 "stand your ground" law, which allows the use of lethal force with no duty to retreat if a person reasonably believes his or her life is in danger. While Zimmerman did not seek a pretrial hearing and specifically invoke the law as a defense, the law played a role in his acquittal. The judge referred to the law in open court, the jury instructions included the law's expanded protections for using force without retreating, and the jurors discussed it. Respecting the jury's verdict and appreciating the difficulty of its deliberations should not translate into a stubborn defense of bad law.
The argument for repeal was strong even without the Zimmerman case. The Tampa Bay Times reviewed 200 "stand your ground" cases last year, and in about one-third of those cases the defendant started the fight and went free. The law has freed killers and aggressive attackers, drug dealers and other criminals whose claims of self-defense were questionable. Since Florida enacted the law, some two dozen states have embraced similar laws, and one study has found an 8 percent increase in murders and non-negligent manslaughters in those states.
Surely Florida legislators did not expect these results when they overwhelmingly voted for the "stand your ground" law eight years ago. Some lawmakers who acknowledge the law's flaws fear tackling the issue now because race has become a larger issue since Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, killed Trayvon Martin, who was African-American. But race already was an issue. The Times investigation found that 73 percent of those who killed a black person walked away free, while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time.
The governor continues to defend the "stand your ground" law despite the overwhelming evidence of its unintended consequences. Scott cites the task force he appointed after Martin's death last year that recommended only minor changes. But the task force was stacked in favor of the law's supporters, and the Legislature failed to make even the few changes that were recommended.
Conventional wisdom says the Legislature should never go into special session without having a plan first. But repealing the "stand your ground" law does not require a plan. It requires courage to stand up for Florida, acknowledge the mistake and vote to repeal a bad law that cannot be fixed. The sooner the better.