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Mother Of Slain Teen Says Stand Your Ground Laws ‘Empowered’ Her Child’s Shooter

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JAIME HENRY-WHITE
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JAIME HENRY-WHITE

LOS ANGELES, CA — After Michael Dunn shot and killed unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Davis for playing loud music in a Jacksonville convenience store parking lot in 2012, his lawyer cited Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law in his defense. After an initial mistrial, Dunn was convicted of first degree murder.

Three years after losing Davis, his mother Lucia McBath continues to fight to change the Stand Your Ground law in Florida and across the country, arguing that it “empowered” Dunn to shoot and kill her teenage son and continues to contribute to the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. Speaking to ThinkProgress at the politics and entertainment convention Politicon in Los Angeles, McBath said she has a message for the man who signed Florida’s Stand Your Ground bill into law: current presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

“What I would like to say to him is that the law is not working to protect citizens,” she said. “It’s not doing whatever you thought it was supposed to do. I would hope you would take a look at what’s happening across the country, the mass shootings and the individual shootings, and really think about what you’ve helped to usher in.”

Really think about what you’ve helped to usher in.

“Stand Your Ground” — which also played a part in acquitting George Zimmerman of the killing of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin — allows state residents to use lethal force when they feel threatened, without first attempting to flee or deescalate the situation. For example, in the trial for Davis’ killing, Dunn’s lawyer Cory Strolla told the court: “Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”

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In the five years after then-Governor Jeb Bush signed the law in 2005, so-called “justifiable homicides” tripled, while the gun homicide rate in the state has remained higher than the national average ever since. Twenty-three other states have since enacted their own Stand Your Ground policies.

“Because of the nature of what happened with my son, Stand Your Ground is a very big issue for me,” said McBath, now a spokesperson for the advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “There may not be a repeal of the law, but we’re trying to amend the law, doing things such as placing back in the duty to retreat. When you’ve taken the duty to retreat out of the law, that just increases the kinds of gun violence that we’ve seen in this country, and people walking away with immunity. We also need background check legislation, which is the number one way to stem gun violence in this country, and we need to close the dangerous loopholes in our gun laws.”

I think that’s going to be a deciding factor on who we elect.

She added that Bush and all other candidates running for president need to be pressed on their policy plans to deal with the ongoing threat of gun violence — a debate recently revived by the recent mass shooting at a community college in Oregon.

Yet in the wake of that massacre, Bush has shown little interest in backing legal reforms, famously telling a South Carolina audience that “stuff happens” and nothing can prevent future acts of gun violence.

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McBath called this response “disturbing,” and suggested it could hurt Bush in next year’s presidential election, which would have been the first in which her son Jordan could have cast a ballot.

“The candidates running for presidential office need to be accountable to us,” she said. “The American people need to demand from those candidates their platform on gun violence prevention, and I think that’s going to be a deciding factor on who we elect.”