TALLAHASSEE — Flanked by lawmakers, the mother of Trayvon Martin fought back tears Wednesday as she called for the repeal of the "stand your ground" law, which she believes has been used as a shield by the man who shot her son.
"How many times are we going to bury our loved ones and not do something about it?" asked Sybrina Fulton at a news conference in Tallahassee. "We need to get rid of the law."
A handful of Democratic lawmakers have filed bills to repeal or scale back the self-defense statute that allows people who fear for their lives to use deadly force. While Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that reviewing gun laws was "the right thing to do," the proposals face an uphill battle in the Republican-led and gun-friendly Legislature.
Fulton's plea from the halls of Florida's Capitol occurred at the same time that in Washington President Barack Obama was pitching sweeping new restrictions on guns, including universal background checks for gun buyers, a new ban on assault weapons and a 10-round cap on ammunition magazines.
While states like New York and Colorado are moving to pass significant new gun restrictions, legislative leaders in Florida have not made gun control a priority this year. Some leaders in the Republican Party, which holds most of the decisionmaking power in the Legislature, have reaffirmed their support for the Second Amendment in the face of calls for gun control reform and none have filed bills on firearms.
The pitch to repeal the stand your ground law is a long-shot proposal from Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, and Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. Both said that incidents like the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager shot to death in Sanford last year, is evidence that Florida's stand your ground law should be repealed.
"These tragedies renew the argument that stand your ground laws make ordinary citizens feel empowered to shoot first and ask questions later," Williams said. "We owe to not only Trayvon's mother, who's here with us today, but we owe it to future generations, we owe it to the citizens of the state of Florida, to ensure that these laws will not bring harm to their families or to our streets."
The Florida Legislature passed the stand your ground law in 2005, making Florida the first of two dozen states to pass similar legislation.
The law drew worldwide media attention last year after Martin was shot by George Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense and was not initially charged. After public outcry, Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, was eventually charged with second-degree murder. His trial is pending.
Zimmerman insists that he was jumped and pummeled by the 17-year-old high school junior, whom Zimmerman had followed after finding him suspicious.
In response to the shooting, Scott created a 19-member task force to review the law. The task force, which spent six months traveling the state and taking public testimony, concluded there was no need to overhaul the controversial self-defense law.
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Critics charged that the task force was dominated by stand your ground law supporters and Bullard called it a "dog and pony show."
In a draft report to be presented to the governor, the task force states that: "all persons have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be and are conducting themselves in a lawful manner."
"The governor commissioned a task force to submit recommendations," Bullard said. "I want to emphasize the word 'task.' As in they had a job to do and they failed their job."
Marion Hammer, a former National Rifle Association president who helped write the stand your ground law, said the law was working fine.
"This legislation was about real people, real problems, real injustices and real tragedies," she told the task force in October. "This law was right when it passed, and it is right today."
Sean Caranna, executive director of gun rights group Florida Carry, agreed that changing or repealing the law is a bad idea.
"The idea that we're going to tell somebody that if they come under a violent attack that they don't have the right to stand where they are, where they have a legal right to be, and defend themselves from that attack — it flies in the face of human nature," he said.