Stand Your Ground law's impact needs more study, task force told

Published Sept. 13, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll has repeatedly said that the task force commissioned to look into Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law will make its decision based on facts, not emotions.

But Carroll and 18 other task force members learned Wednesday that those facts — like many stand your ground cases — can be difficult to pin down.

A University of Florida professor presented a slew of data tracking trends in crime, gun ownership and tourism since the 2005, but ultimately concluded that no definitive connections could be made yet to the stand your ground law.

"The data that we collected in response to the task force request is insufficient to provide a conclusion on this issue," said professor Monique Haughton Worrell of UF's law school. "It's a complex issue, requiring complex analysis."

Worrell told task force members meeting in West Palm Beach that a more in-depth study would be needed before the university could determine a connection between stand your ground and crime rates, gun ownership or tourism in Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott commissioned the task force in the wake of the February shooting death of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin, which thrust the state's controversial gun laws into a national spotlight. The task force will meet in Cutler Bay on Thursday.

Trayvon, 17, was shot by a Sanford neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, who claims that he was acting in self-defense. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder several weeks after the shooting, after nationwide protests and the appointment of a special prosecutor.

The 2005 law allows anyone to use deadly force if they feel in danger of great harm. The UF preliminary report found that in the seven years since the law passed:

• Homicides have increased;

• Violent crime has continued to decrease;

• Tourism gains saw no significant change;

• So-called "justifiable homicides" have more than doubled;

• Applications for concealed weapons permits have tripled.

But Worrell cautioned strongly against reading too much into those raw numbers. For example, violent crime had already been on the decline nationwide prior to 2005, and several other factors impact the crime and homicide rates, other than Stand Your Ground.

Gun control advocates immediately criticized the report as "disappointing," saying it did not go far enough to determine the true impact of the stand your ground law.

"If the state wanted to work with a real data analysis, then fund it. It became pretty clear that they are going to fail to do that," said Ginny Simmons, director of the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign. The UF study was done at no charge to the state, a spokesperson for Scott said.

The author of the law, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the data proved wrong those who predicted the law would harm tourism and lead to a spike in crime.

As the task force — which has been meeting across the state since May — held its first meeting Wednesday in South Florida, the public testimony was generally in opposition to the law.

Only a handful of people spoke during the meeting, with most saying the self-defense law had led to tragic miscarriages of justice.

David Boden, whose son, Jason, was shot to death while unarmed in 2009, said prosecutors told him they couldn't bring charges against the shooter because of the Stand Your Ground law.

"How many more have to die?" asked Boden, choking up during remarks to the panel. "This law is creating more problems than it is solving."

Members of the task force debated several options for amending the law, and will continue that effort on Thursday when it meets at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.

Miami Herald reporter Frances Robles contributed to this report.