July 21, 2013

Despite outcry, stand-ground law repeals unlikely

The Associated Press

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Civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, said they would push for repeal of the laws, starting in Florida, where a group of young protesters occupied GOP Gov. Rick Scott's office demanding change.

"If we can do it in Florida, we can affect other states," Sharpton said last week.

On Saturday, Sharpton's National Action Network organized "Justice for Trayvon" rallies in more than 100 cities. In addition to pushing for federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, the rallies attacked stand-your-ground laws.

"By standing his ground, George Zimmerman was able to get away with murdering a 17-year-old black man," said Chelsea Jones, a student who spoke at a Dallas rally. "I can only imagine what the black community can achieve by standing their ground."

Even entertainer Stevie Wonder has joined the outcry, vowing not to perform in Florida as long as stand your ground remain on the books. Sharpton suggested that the law's opponents might boycott Florida orange juice, and other groups want a boycott on the state's tourist destinations, both multibillion-dollar industries.

Florida state Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said the Zimmerman verdict was a "wakeup call" that should at least open fresh debate on stand-your-ground laws.

He noted that in the wake of the 2011 acquittal of Casey Anthony in the killing of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, Florida lawmakers passed legislation making it a felony for a parent or guardian to fail to report a missing child within 36 hours. Caylee's disappearance was not reported for 31 days.

"We are calling for the same type of action," Smith said.

But The Associated Press has found scant support for repeal of the laws in Florida and elsewhere. Scott told reporters Thursday that he agreed with the findings of a task force he appointed on the subject after Martin's shooting, which recommended no changes to the stand-your-ground law. Of the protesters in his Capitol office, Scott said, "I think it is great that people are exercising their voices."

After Holder's speech, the National Rifle Association, which strongly backs stand-your-ground laws and holds great sway in many state legislatures, issued a statement claiming that Obama's administration was aiming more at the broader political goal of restricting gun rights.

"The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept, it's a fundamental human right," said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "To send a message that legitimate self-defense is to blame is unconscionable."

In fact, in states with stand-your-ground laws similar to Florida's, the trend has been toward greater gun rights. In Oklahoma, for example, lawmakers in 2012 passed an "open-carry" measure that allows people with a concealed carry permit to now display their handguns openly in a holster. Other states have sought to expand what are known as "castle doctrine" laws – the right to defend one's self with deadly force in the home – to apply to businesses.

New Hampshire lawmakers this year considered repealing the state's-stand-your ground law, which was enacted in 2011 by a Republican Legislature over a Democratic governor's veto. After narrowly passing the Democratic-led House in March, the bill died in the Republican-led Senate.

Holder also announced this week that the Justice Department would investigate whether Zimmerman could be charged under federal civil rights laws, which would require evidence that he harbored racial animosity against Martin. Most legal experts say that will be a difficult charge to bring, leaving Martin's supporters to concentrate on trying to change stand-your-ground laws.

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