1. Florida Politics

John Romano: Let's talk "stand your ground" law and its flaws

Published Jul. 21, 2013

If reasonable doubt is the threshold, then consider it reached.

You can believe wholeheartedly in the Second Amendment and still have reasonable doubts about Florida's self-defense laws.

You can hold a concealed weapons permit and still have reasonable doubts about the ambiguities in the "stand your ground'' clause.

You can have complete faith that a jury reached the correct decision in the George Zimmerman trial and still have reasonable doubts about how our state laws are interpreted from case to case.

In other words, questioning whether "stand your ground'' is an effective law does not mean you are antigun, soft on crime or a tree-hugging crackpot.

It only means you have paid enough attention to realize the law seems to have spawned too many unintended consequences.

Regrettably, the governor and others seem to have missed that.

This isn't about some well-meaning college students camped out at the Capitol. And it isn't about politicians seizing on a campaign issue or radio hosts chasing ratings.

And it is not simply about Trayvon Martin's death.

It's about a law that sounds well-intentioned but is so broadly written that criminals and drug dealers have used it to kill with impunity.

And it's time for Florida to address those faults.

That's what I wish Gov. Rick Scott had said when he met with protestors in Tallahassee on Thursday night. He could have told them that a special legislative session was out of the question, but he would personally meet with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and legislators to figure out if changes were needed.

Because, the truth is, "stand your ground" has never gotten a thorough vetting.

Lawmakers sold it as part of a broader self-defense bill in 2005. The pitch was that Florida needed a stronger "castle doctrine'' that permitted residents to use deadly force against home intruders. The "stand your ground'' expansion was deftly folded into that more palatable law.

In essence, it meant any lawmaker who voted no to "stand your ground'' would also be voting no to the idea of defending your home against invasion. Not surprisingly, it passed the Senate 39-0 and the House 94-20.

Seven years later, to appease critics in the wake of the Zimmerman shooting, a laughably one-sided task force determined there were no substantial changes necessary to "stand your ground.''

Yet a Tampa Bay Times investigation detailed how the law was being used in cases of drug deals, jealous paramours and road rage incidents. There were defendants who clearly initiated confrontations and later claimed self-defense.

What began as "stand your ground'' was turning into "last man standing.'' If there were no witnesses, survivors were free to shape a story in any way that benefited them.

It is undeniably true that "stand your ground'' has aided law-abiding citizens in difficult circumstances, but it has also inadvertently helped those seeking confrontation.

What we need to grasp is this does not have to be an either/or issue. We do not have to weaken self-defense laws. We do not even have to repeal "stand your ground.'' What we need to do is tighten the numerous loopholes.

What we need to do is have the conversation about "stand your ground' that we never had in 2005.


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