Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Zimmerman and Laws on Trial

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Zimmerman and Laws on Trial

Article excerpt

The arrest of George Zimmerman on a charge of second-degree murder Wednesday was a step toward delivering long-delayed justice in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.

It was also a step toward repairing the reputation of Florida, whose lax and confusing gun laws have generated debate and criticism worldwide in the wake of the Feb. 26 shooting.

Those laws will face further scrutiny as the Zimmerman case moves forward.

Florida legislators should be among those watching closely to determine if the state has gone so far in granting gun owners rights that it has jeopardized public safety.

Drawing special attention as the case unfolds will be Florida's "stand your ground" and concealed-weapon carrying laws.

Under the state's "stand your ground" law, a person attacked in any public place "has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force." The law forbids the arrest, detention or prosecution of those covered by the law.

In extending the self-defense right beyond one's home to any public place, Florida's "stand your ground" law is one of the most expansive in the nation.

A claim of self-defense

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator in the Orlando suburb of Sanford, told police he shot Martin in self-defense.

He said he had been following Martin, a 17-year-old African- American who was walking home from a convenience store on the night of Feb. 26. Zimmerman, 28, said that he lost sight of Martin and that Martin then surprised him, punched him and struck his head on the pavement. That, he told police, is when he shot the teenager. Martin was unarmed.

The Sanford police released Zimmerman without charges and returned his gun to him. The police chief said later that officers could not disprove his claim of self-defense.

Martin's parents held a news conference and drew national attention to the case, while starting an online petition drive that gathered more than a million signatures on a petition demanding Zimmerman's arrest.

Nationwide protests ensued. The U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation, and Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor, State Attorney Angela Corey from the Jacksonville judicial district, to handle the state's inquiry. …

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