Shevrin Jones renews push to repeal ‘stand your ground’ law

Gun Rights

A Democratic state lawmaker is again attempting to eliminate Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” defense.

Sen. Shevrin Jones filed legislation that would alter the self-defense landscape in Florida. The bill targets an oft-criticized state law that came under the national spotlight before and after the failed prosecution of George Zimmerman, who in 2012 fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager.

It’s not the first time Jones, a West Park Democrat, has tried to overhaul Florida’s self-defense laws. His previous attempts haven’t been successful, and that’s unlikely to change this year. The GOP majority makeup of the Legislature remains the same, and Republicans have bolstered — not weakened — the “stand your ground” defense in recent years.

Jones’ bill (SB 96) removes statutory language allowing someone “to stand his or her ground” and replaces it with a duty to retreat from confrontation “if the person knows that he or she can, with complete safety, avoid the necessity of using deadly force.”

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The bill would not prevent people from using deadly force in all cases, however. It leaves untouched Florida laws justifying the use of deadly force when someone “reasonably” believes it’s necessary to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm” or “the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”

Zimmerman’s lawyers did not invoke the “stand your ground” defense during his trial. But the law — then only eight years old — was a focal point of the coverage.

Local police, for example, cited self-defense laws in explaining their decision not to charge Zimmerman, and it wasn’t until then-Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor that charges were brought against Zimmerman. Zimmerman was probably aware of Florida’s self-defense laws and was acting as a self-appointed neighborhood vigilante when he killed Martin.

A similar pattern plagued the 2018 killing of Markeis McGlockton, then a 28-year-old unarmed Black man. Citing Florida’s “stand your ground” laws, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri elected to not bring charges against the killer, Michael Drejka. Then-State Attorney Bernie McCabe eventually recommended prosecution, and Drejka was convicted for manslaughter.

One legal expert suggested to Florida Politics that the bill would have a straightforward effect in Florida if it became law.

“It’s a wonderful bill and would reduce the number of people dying unnecessarily in this state,” University of Florida Law professor Kenneth Nunn said. “I have no idea of the chances such a bill would pass, but it would certainly reduce the number of individuals dying from gun violence.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states have eliminated the common-law duty to retreat from confrontation. At least 10 of those states, including Florida, explicitly recognize the right of a person to “stand his or her ground.”

The legislation is unlikely to get real traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature. The stand-your-ground language, which became law in 2005, was the result of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying efforts, still very much a presence in Tallahassee.

In 2017, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed and then-Gov. Scott signed a measure that made it more difficult for prosecutors to convict those claiming the defense. Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose veto power means he has the final say on any legislation, also is unlikely to support such a measure. He’s a self-defense enthusiast who’s gone as far as calling those who invoke it “Good Samaritans.”

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