'Stand your ground' needs thoughtful changes, not doomed crusade for repeal

Published Nov. 12, 2013

In terms of brevity and accuracy, most of the headlines from last week's House committee meeting were right on target.

For instance:

Lawmakers vote down repeal of "stand your ground"

This would be the concise version of events. The straightforward telling of a story that has captured the state's attention for months.

Here's the alternate version:

Grandstanding on "stand your ground" leads nowhere

The five-hour House committee meeting wasn't a debate, it was a charade. The proposal had zero chance of making it out of that committee, and everyone knew it.

Now that isn't a judgment on the law itself; that is simply reality.

Republicans understand that. So do common-sense Democrats.

They all pay attention to the way winds are blowing around the state, and so they know there is not a lot of enthusiasm among voters to repeal "stand your ground."

Poll after poll has shown a majority of Florida residents favor keeping the law the way it is. A smaller number of residents would like to see the law modified. Those who want to reverse the law entirely are outnumbered by a hopeless margin.

So like it or not, "stand your ground" is here to stay.

That's why last week's proposal should not be portrayed as some valiant effort to fight the good fight. Instead, it was a predictably doomed crusade that could potentially hamper a more realistic effort to close "stand your ground's" loopholes.

It's almost like the old courtroom adage:

Never ask a question to which you don't already know the answer.

All that the highly publicized committee meeting did was allow "stand your ground" cheerleaders to point out how little support there is for repeal. Not only did the eight Republicans on the committee vote to quash the proposal, three of the five Democrats did, too.

So much for momentum.

Meanwhile, the Senate's Criminal Justice subcommittee has been working on bipartisan proposals that address some of the ambiguities in the law's language.

For instance, someone who was an aggressor in a confrontation would not necessarily have "stand your ground" immunity.

The Senate proposal would also require law enforcement agencies to conduct full investigations even when "stand your ground" has been claimed as a defense. And local police departments would be asked to establish guidelines for neighborhood watch associations to play an "observe and report" role.

These Senate proposals are similar to some of the recommendations made earlier this year by a task force convened by the governor to examine "stand your ground," and so they should have legitimacy across party lines.

So does that mean there is a chance the law will be fixed?

The proposals have made it past one committee, and it would not be shocking to see some version of reform reach the Senate floor.

Unfortunately, getting past the House will be another story. Republican leaders have not been enthusiastic about changes and, if they want to be disingenuous, could claim to have already given the issue a public hearing.

House Democrats should remember that before congratulating themselves on last week's futile fight.