Saturday, February 24, 2018
Editorials

'Stand your ground' law needs a real review

The disappointing results from a task force that examined Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law are not a surprise. The 19-member panel commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting was packed with the law's supporters, while critics were frozen out. The result — a report that recommends almost no changes to the law, despite overwhelming evidence of its systemic flaws — is not worthy of consideration. Florida's legislative leaders need to undertake a more thoughtful review themselves. This law is a menace that has allowed too many killers to walk free.

The review was prompted by a national firestorm that erupted after George Zimmerman, a Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer, shot dead Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, on Feb. 26 and was not arrested after claiming self-defense. Initially police cited "stand your ground," though Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder. But the episode put a spotlight on the 2005 law, pushed by the National Rifle Association, that gives legal immunity to people who use deadly force when they reasonably believe their life is in danger.

Unfortunately, the Florida Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, wasn't much interested in fairly evaluating the law as her commission traveled the state holding seven public hearings and receiving thousands of comments from the public — including emotional testimonials by those whose loved ones were killed by people who went free under the law.

The report's essentially non-existent findings and sparse recommendations are a sad showing after all the input and indicate a lack of interest in truly evaluating the law's impact. After affirming its support for "stand your ground," the task force leaves it to the Legislature to tweak a few specific parts of the law, but little of substance.

Seven years of experience demonstrate the law is dangerous and gives legal cover to people prone to violence, including during road rage and gang shooting incidents. Nearly 60 percent of defendants who have invoked it, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis, had at least one arrest before they killed someone, raising questions about the law applying only to law-abiding people defending themselves. Since the law's passage in Florida, justifiable homicides increased 192 percent, according to FBI data, with other "stand your ground" states experiencing similar patterns.

Carroll claims the task force did "a very good, deliberate job," but it largely rejected suggestions from prosecutors, including fellow panelist Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade state attorney. Among other changes, Rundle wants the statute amended so that people who are the initial aggressor or those who initially provoke the use of force can't hide behind the law. The panel wasn't interested.

The task force didn't agree to eliminate the pretrial immunity hearing, an extra, unnecessary proceeding that the national Association of Prosecuting Attorneys suggested be dumped. It didn't address whether "stand your ground" applies when the victim is killed while fleeing. Courts have not ruled consistently. And it didn't recommend rigorous tracking of "stand your ground" cases, beyond some additional study to determine whether it's fairly applied.

This task force failed to do its job thoroughly or impartially. Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the law and was on the task force, used the fact that Zimmerman was finally arrested as proof that the law works as intended. That kind of rationalization ignores the real impact of the law and infects the entire report. Incoming legislative leaders, who just saw their Republican majority curtailed by voters, owe it to their constituents to take up their own review of "stand your ground."

Comments
Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the stateís safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last weekís massacre ...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Editorial: Six proposals for reasonable gun control

Enough is enough. The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has renewed conversations about gun control in Washington and Tallahassee. Young people are demanding action, and there are cracks in the National Rifle Associationís solid w...
Published: 02/23/18
Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

Editorial: The time to act on guns is now

The nationís conversation on guns took an encouraging step this week in three essential places ó South Florida, Tallahassee and Washington ó as survivors, victimsí families and elected leaders searched painfully and sincerely for common ground after ...
Published: 02/22/18

Editorial: FDLE probe of state fair fiasco falls short

It should go without saying that Florida law frowns upon public officials who take freebies from vendors and whose agency throws business to their family. But that wasnít enough to move the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find that the ex-di...
Published: 02/21/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Published: 02/21/18

Editorial: Nursing home rule should be stronger

It shouldnít take months or another tragedy for Florida ó which is hot and full of seniors ó to protect its elderly population from heat stroke in the event of an emergency. Thatís why Gov. Rick Scott had the right idea last year in calling for nursi...
Published: 02/20/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18