Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Standing on Common Ground

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Standing on Common Ground

Article excerpt

Bipartisan moves to amend Florida's self-defense law

A Florida Senate committee has taken the first steps toward making much-needed changes to the controversial "stand your ground" law.

More steps lie ahead -- in both the Senate and the Florida House - - but a bipartisan approach embraced so far offers hope for amending the flawed self-defense statute.

The Senate Judiciary Committee began the difficult process Tuesday by voting 7-2 to approve a bill that adopts several recommendations made by a governor-appointed, "stand your ground" task force.

Among other proposals, the bill would:

- Prohibit people who are aggressors in confrontations from claiming "stand your ground" immunity.

- Require sheriffs and city police departments to set guidelines for "neighborhood watch" programs and limit members to observing and reporting suspected crimes.

- Specify that law enforcement must conduct a full investigation in shootings even if "stand your ground" is claimed as a defense.

The bill would leave in place the bulk of the 2005 law that allows people to use deadly force if they feel threatened.

The Trayvon Martine case

The legislation and the task force were sparked by problems that came to light in the Trayvon Martin case. In 2012, Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old, was followed through a gated Sanford community by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. The two confronted each other and Zimmerman fatally shot Martin. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder last July. Though he did not claim "stand your ground" as a defense in his trial, his earlier assertion of the law triggered massive protests, and the verdict prompted a sit-in at the state Capitol.

One of the sponsors of the Senate bill is Sen. David Simmons, R- Altamonte Springs, who also sponsored the original "stand your ground" bill. Simmons still supports the law, but, to his credit, recognizes the need for changes. …

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