Florida Governor Stands Firm On 'Stand Your Ground' Law

After the Zimmerman verdict, there's a renewed call by politicians and activists to repeal Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law. There's even talk of a boycott. Meanwhile, new 'Stand Your Ground' cases raise questions about whether the law gives too much protection to those claiming self-defense.

In the days following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, there were rallies and vigils across the country. In the Florida capitol of Tallahassee, protesters camped out at Gov. Rick Scott's office calling for a meeting.

When the Republican Scott met with the protesters on Thursday, one of the group's leaders, Philip Agnew, asked the governor to convene a special session of the Legislature to look at repealing the state's "stand your ground" law.

"It is the time for leadership," Agnew said. "The world is watching. Most definitely, the nation is watching. And you have the opportunity to stand tall above the rest."

Florida passed its version of the law in 2005. It allows people who feel threatened to use deadly force in self-defense. And it says they have no duty to retreat. Since then, similar provisions have been adopted by some 30 other states.

After Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the 2012 shooting death of Martin, an unarmed black teenager, the outcry led Scott to convene a special task force to examine the law. The task force, which included two of the law's authors, ultimately recommended only minor changes.

Scott called for a statewide day of prayer for unity on Sunday. But he said he's standing by the recommendations of the task force.

"I'm not going to call a special session," Scott told the protesters. "I don't believe right now that 'stand your ground' should be changed. But I tell you right now, I appreciate you."

The demonstrators say they plan on camping outside the governor's office until he calls a special session.

There are others, in Florida and nationally, taking up the call. The day after the verdict, singer Stevie Wonder said he would not perform in the state until the law was repealed. And on online petition drive has started calling for a boycott of Florida tourism.

Republican state Rep. Dennis Baxley, who helped write Florida's "stand your ground" law, says many opponents don't really understand it. The law, he said, was intended in part to help protect tourists, and a boycott makes little sense.

"If you're here with your family and you want to feel safe, that if you defend yourself or your family from a hotel invasion or if somebody trying to carjack you, and you have to meet force with force, that the state of Florida is going to stand with you," Baxley says.

After losing the case against Zimmerman, prosecutor Angela Corey declined to criticize the "stand your ground" law, saying only that justifiable use of deadly force is one of the most "difficult" areas of the law.

Mike Satz, another state attorney, isn't so reticent. At a news conference in Fort Lauderdale, Satz supported the call to change the law, especially the section that eliminates a person's duty to retreat.

"And before there was a common law duty that you had to retreat before you used deadly force. Now in the statute it says you don't have to retreat," Satz said. "Before you take somebody's life, think about the alternatives 'cause life is precious.

Democrats are in the minority in both chambers of Florida's Legislature. In the last session, efforts to make changes to the law were blocked by Republican leaders. Democratic Senate leader Chris Smith says that's because Republicans don't want a debate on the controversial law. But with talk of a boycott, Smith says it's time for Republicans to come to the table.

"People that are talking boycott, they're saying boycott because they think Florida is not going to do anything," he said. "But the way to stave that off is to hear the bills. The way to stave that off is to step forward and actually do something."

In Washington, Congress may also weigh in on the issue. In light of the Zimmerman verdict, Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin says he'll hold a hearing on "stand your ground" laws on the books in Florida and around the country.

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