CREDIT: Associated Press
This summer, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a group of protesters remained outside Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) office for 31 days, demanding that he call a special session to repeal the Stand Your Ground law. Scott said he wouldn’t call lawmakers back to the capitol, but House Speaker Will Weatherford agreed to hold a hearing on a repeal bill in the fall.
On Thursday, after five hours of emotional testimony, the House’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee wholly rejected the repeal bill by a vote of 11-2, and voted in favor of a bill to expand Stand Your Ground-like immunity to those who fire or brandish a gun.
Among the speakers was Lucia McBath, the mother of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, shot dead in purported self-defense after a disagreement at a Jacksonville gas station. “My grief is unbearable at times,” she told more than 300 attendees. “I’m here as a face of the countless victims of gun violence.”
But as the Orlando Sentinel wrote in August, this outcome was a “foregone conclusion” in the conservative Florida House, particularly after Weatherford selected Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) to preside over the hearing. Gaetz is not just a stark opponent of the bill who has said from the start he would not support changing “one damn comma” of the law. He is also known as a pugnacious, social media-savvy legislator who, the Miami Herald reports, “has sponsored (and passed) some of the most conservative legislation in a conservative-dominated Legislature.”
Last year, Gov. Scott participated in a similar “farce” when he agreed to review the law in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death. After a six-month review, a task force stacked by Scott with supporters of the bill recommended that the law remain largely the same, without even considering several studies that found these laws are associated with a significant increase in homicides, have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, and do not appear to deter crime at all.
While the committee vote halts the Stand Your Ground repeal movement in Florida for now, another bill that garnered overwhelming 12-1 committee support will move forward. The NRA-backed bill expands Stand Your Ground-like immunity to those who brandish or fire guns in self-defense. It has been marketed as a “warning shot bill,” capitalizing on outrage over a 20-year prison term for Marissa Alexander, who is serving a mandatory minimum sentence after firing a warning shot during a dispute with her abusive husband. But while Alexander’s conviction and sentence have been panned across the ideological spectrum as exemplifying overly punitive sentencing, racial disparity, and insensitivity to domestic abuse, the bill passed by the House Committee does much more than exempt Alexander’s conduct from such harsh punishment. In addition to giving judges some more discretion to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in the 10-20-Life law behind Alexander’s sentence, the bill expands immunity for violent conduct in as vague and sweeping a manner as Florida’s existing Stand Your Ground law, and could represent the newest mechanism for encouraging even more vigilantism.