Crazy Gun Laws That Put Our Lives at Risk

Did you know there is at least one municipality in America that requires the head of household to own a gun? It’s just one of the many “gun laws” that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has pushed to enact across the nation. In fact, Thom Senzee reports on Advocate.com that there are other “crazy” gun laws – like stand your ground – that put our lives at risk.

The NRA has been so effective at defeating just about every proposed gun control measure in the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, and in state houses across the country that it may be time to replace the term “lobbying” with a new one.

The NRA and its executive director, the unyielding Wayne LaPierre, have been working hard to enact pro-gun laws. For example, according to Mother Jones, LaPierre and company are bent on bringing stand your ground laws to all 50 states.

During the past four decades, the NRA has fundamentally changed the very meaning of the term “gun laws.” If you think “gun laws” refers to laws that limit the availability of guns, think again. This list of absurd legislation (and proposed legislation) shows how some are fighting to extend the right to bear arms to even schools and workplaces. See 7 Crazy Gun Laws That Put Our Lives at Risk on advocate.com

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Why Stand Your Ground Laws Won’t Stop A Mass Shooting

After each mass shooting in America, a voice is heard somewhere in the wilderness of the gun control debate preaching the myth that “nothing stops a bad guy but a good guy with a gun.” This worn-out statement has been used in support of stand your ground laws, but it’s unlikely stand your ground laws would stop a mass shooting.

The good guy myth is repeated by the gun lobby – like a sales pitch for a reliable car – almost every time there’s a high-profile murder of innocent people, or a vigilante kills a perp, and it’s simply not true.

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, at the Pulse night club in Orlando, we heard it again. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, an NRA supporter, is likely to have said it again by the time you read this.

Stand your ground is dangerous

Some gun owners may argue that engaging a threat is the best solution. In Florida – the birthplace of “stand your ground” laws – it’s highly possible that several patrons or employees of the night club were armed, and reports are that an armed security guard fired back at the gunman during the frenzy. It’s unclear if the club had a system to check for weapons at the entrance.

Scene of Pulse nightclub shooting
Scene of Pulse nightclub shooting (photo credit: Orlando Police Dept.)

Chances are, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, like any other mass shooter, probably didn’t bother to make a normal entrance on his hours-long rampage, as he killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. it was only when police fired on him that the shooting ended.

Stand your ground law relieves a person of a duty to retreat. That means there is no obligation to try and escape any danger or call police in the face of a threat. It allows for the use of deadly force to meet deadly force.

SEE: About Stand Your Ground Law

It means the law may be on the good guy’s side even if he’s not the intended target of a gunman. There have been several cases where the “good guy” saved the day. A Good Samaritan can also be killed while trying to come to the rescue of others, as what happened outside a Dallas, Texas store last month.

No warning, lots of firepower

But without any warning or firepower to match, who can stand their ground against an AR-15 assault rifle firing 45 rounds a minute – a weapon designed for war – wielded by a crazed gunman intent on carnage?

Mass shootings in U.S.
Mass shootings in U.S. (graphic credit: L.A. Times)

Some research suggests that a “good guy with a gun” may not even be aware of a threat until it’s too late. In a mass shooting, there is usually no warning, in which case the good guy role is dangerously ineffective at least.

At it’s deadliest worst, there is also an increased chance during an active shooter situation that any number of innocent people may be hurt or killed by “friendly fire” from an untrained civilian – who happens to be a “good guy with a gun”. There could also be criminal or civil legal repercussions.

To successfully meet force with force, there must be some type of warning and an equal or better effective and accurate amount of force used to stop a bad guy with an AR-15. In almost every mass shooting of recent years (including the Newtown school shooting, the movie theater shooting in Aurora, and the San Bernardino  shooting) it was the shooter’s weapon of choice.

Yet the NRA, the AR-15’s most avid supporter, has opposed any efforts to keep assault weapons out of the hands of bloodthirsty maniacs. In the immediate aftermath of the worst mass shooting in our memory, the organization was unusually quiet and offered no expressions of sympathy for the victims.

Manufacturers of these high-powered weapons of war are facing lawsuits from some families. Families of Sandy Hook victims have filed lawsuits against gun manufacturers they say made a weapon that shouldn’t be sold to civilians. In response to the Orlando shooting, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said “It reminds us once more that weapons of war have no place on our streets.”

There should be state and federal bans on assault-type weapons designed more for war than for hunting, such as was in effect from 1994 to 2004. It’s estimated that there are millions of these weapons in circulation. Efforts to reinstitute the ban have been underway but encounter resistance from the gun lobby.

Only lawmakers can help

Unfortunately, it appears that mass shootings do little to change state gun laws, even when we say enough is enough. Many politicians only use phrases like “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting, when action is what’s needed.

It’s up to lawmakers in each state who recklessly feed into NRA rhetoric and NRA money to act now – with urgency – and address the epidemic of gun violence by enacting gun laws for safety that may protect us. Anything less will continue to diminish our pursuit of happiness.

Having a stand your ground law can’t help stop a mass shooting, but sensible gun laws can help. We must hold state lawmakers responsible if they want our votes. We must demand that they take action to make America SAFE again.

Two New Movies Shoot Back At Gun Violence

 

In the gun-toting society that we live in, doesn’t it sometimes feel as though we’re all under the gun and we need to wear armor? The goal of two new gun-themed documentary movies, which debut on television this week, appears to be an attempt to shed light on America’s culture of guns and help us explore ways to reduce gun violence. I haven’t seen either one yet, but “Armor of Light” focuses on religion vs. guns and “Under the Gun” asymmetrically explores the gun debate.

under the gununder the gun

Armor of Light premieres on the PBS “Independent Lens” series at 8:00 p.m. ET, Tuesday, May 10. It whisks us into the pulpit of evangelical minister Rob Schenck, an anti-abortion activist, and on a part of Lucia McBath’s journey, fighting for the legacy of her son, Jordan Davis, murdered by a misguided gun owner over loud music as he sat in the back seat of a friend’s SUV.

The film explores the balance of religion vs. guns. Schenck breaks with religious tradition— and risks alienating his longtime friends— when he questions if being pro-gun is consistent with being pro-life.

Armor of Light

Under the Gun, produced and narrated by Katie Couric, premieres at 8:00 p.m. ET, Sunday, May 15 on EPIX, and dives head-first into the gun debate, examining events and people who have kept the gun debate fierce and the progress slow, even as gun deaths and mass shootings continue to increase.

The documentary looks at why politicians find it difficult to act and what’s being done on the state and local levels. It features families impacted by mass shootings in Newtown, Aurora, Isla Vista and Tucson, as well as people in other cities who experience gun violence on a daily basis.

Be sure to tune in and watch each one of these ambitious projects, then please come back and leave your thoughts below.

 

Alarming Facts About Stand Your Ground Laws

One reason stand your ground law is so controversial may be because it’s sometimes misunderstood. Many gun-rights advocates, led by NRA rhetoric, likely support it because they believe that changing or repealing stand your ground would somehow take away their 2nd Amendment rights. As a matter of fact, we were fine before stand your ground laws. Americans have always had a right to self-defense.

Here are a few alarming facts about stand your ground:

In most stand your ground cases, the weapon is a gun, the victim unarmed, and the killer goes free.

Tampa Bay Times Graphic of stand your ground cases
Tampa Bay Times Graphic

This was revealed in an excellent comprehensive 2012 Tampa Bay Times study. The research, which claimed that many cases seem to make a mockery of the legal system, also found almost 70 percent of defendants claiming stand your ground were successful, and that defendants were more likely to prevail when victims were black – 73 percent of defendants who killed a black person went free, compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.

 

A successful stand your ground plea may allow immunity from prosecution for killing innocent bystanders.

Darrell Niles
Darrell Niles

Stand your ground laws in some states incorporate immunity from prosecution if an innocent bystander is killed. An example occurred in South Carolina in 2013, which set a dangerous precedent when a shooter was freed of all charges after killing 17 year-old Darrell Niles.

 

Florida lawmakers want to pay up to $200000 for legal fees in self-defense cases.

 Florida could pay up to $200000 for legal fees in a self-defense case.

The man who introduced stand your ground to Florida, state Representative Dennis Baxley, introduced a 2016 bill that would pay legal fees. SB 0344 proposed that if a defendant is brought to trial, then claims and proves self-defense immunity, Florida would reimburse up to $200,000 for all their expenses, including attorney fees, court costs, and compensation for loss of income.

 

Stand your ground law violates an international human rights treaty the U.S. signed in 1977, and helps get the U.S. a failing grade on human rights.

United States Human Rights Scorecard
United States Human Rights Scorecard (credit: CCPR)

In 2013, after the United Nations Commission on Human Rights urged the United States to examine stand your ground laws, one U.S. Senate hearing was held. Since then, no action has been taken to address stand your ground on a federal level. In 2015, the commission gave the U.S. a low score of C1 on reviewing stand your ground laws (one of several factors needed to conform to international human rights standards).

 

Using stand your ground defense allows a defendant two chances to avoid prison.

Jail card

When a defendant invokes stand your ground law, they petition the court for a hearing before a judge who determines, among other things, if the defendant had a right to be where the incident occurred, who was at fault, whether the defendant had intent, and felt threatened while in fear for their life. A judge decides the case, and whether it goes to trial. If a defendant loses at this stand your ground hearing, a case goes to trial. If the defendant wins, charges may be dropped.

 

Stand Your Ground: The Self-defense That Isn’t

It’s true that under “Stand your Ground” it doesn’t matter whether the threat is real or not, only whether the person in their own mind feels threatened. The law does away with all reason, and provides a license to kill on a perceived threat that may or may not be real.

atomicdoug

mourning-jordan-davisA classmate of Jordan Davis, age 17, weeps outside the memorial service

Imagine for a moment that someone cuts Joseph off in traffic, or does something that endangers him. Joe follows them into a 7-11 store and confronts them. The person who cut Joe off isn’t interested in hearing the criticism and becomes belligerent. He moves towards Joe in a threatening way, and tells him to get the hell out of the store, or he’ll F- him up.  Under normal self defense laws, Joe can either retreat (i.e. leave the store), or if physical harm is imminent (for example if the other person pulled out a switchblade), Joe can legally defend himself.

But under the “Stand your Ground” law in Florida, and 20+ other Red states, if Joe feels threatened, he can pull out a concealed weapon and shoot the other person dead.  Under “Stand your Ground” it doesn’t matter whether the threat is real or…

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10 Actual Reasons Why America Has So Many Mass Shootings (Nope, Not Guns!)

A satirical look at what some “gun nuts” might think are the reasons for mass shootings in America.

List of X

How can you even say that this cutest thing could possibly be responsible for something as heinous as a mass shooting??? How can you even say that something this cute could possibly be responsible for something as heinous as a mass shooting???

Last week, a high-profile mass shooting in California made headlines – but by some counts, there have already been over 300 mass shootings this year alone. As always, liberals are pushing the crazy idea that the easy access to guns is causing all these shootings. But if you ask the people who know guns, and I mean, really, really know guns – own them, shoot them, spend every waking moment with them, and at night have nightmares that Obama will take them away – they will tell you that it’s not the guns that are causing these tragedies. So here are 10 actual reasons why America has so many mass shootings.

1)  Mental illness: Mental illness is the huge problem causing gun violence. For example, the majority of the U.S. Senate just voted to…

View original post 414 more words

NRA Fired Up As Court Ruling Refuels Fight Over Stand Your Ground

A road rage incident involving an Indiana family on the way to DisneyWorld in 2011 has led to a major court ruling that is a severe setback for stand your ground laws and gun rights, leaving the NRA steaming mad. On July 9, 2015, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that defendants, not the prosecutors, has the burden of proof in a self-defense situation.

A ruling for the defense could have led to more pretrial acquittals, and made it easier to get immunity under the stand your ground law. Stand your ground gives a defendant two chances to go free. Pre-trial hearings are held in “stand your ground” cases, to determine whether defendants are immune from prosecution.

The court decision came in the case of defendant Jared Bretherick, who was 22 years-old when he was riding with his 13 year-old sister on the back seat of a Chevy Silverado truck as his parents Ron and Debbie Bretherick – both disabled veterans – were in the front. Ron was driving, as the vacationing Hossiers headed to Orlando for a stop at DisneyWorld on the way home to Avon, Indiana from a Christmas vacation.

Jared Bretherick
Jared Bretherick (Osceola County sheriff’s office booking photo)

On December 29, 2011 a Florida man, Derrick Dunning, driving a blue Cadillac Escalade, was reportedly driving recklessly through traffic in Osceola County at a high rate of speed. After Dunning almost collided with the Brethericks while swerving toward their truck, Ron instinctively responded with his horn, and continued driving. Dunning apparently didn’t like it.

According to a police report, Dunning at some point stopped the Escalade in the middle of a multi-lane highway – right in front of the Bretherick’s pickup. He got out of his vehicle, walking back toward the Indiana family – who later said they felt threatened. Jared got Ron’s gun from the glove compartment while Debbie called 911.

As Dunning approached, Ron held up his gun. Dunning backed up, returning to his vehicle saying “I got a gun, too”, while Jared grabbed the family gun and got out of the pickup. There ensued a brief standoff between Jared and Dunning, since no one knew Dunning’s intentions after he returned to his Escalade and sat there. The two females exited the pickup and ducked in a ditch on the side of the highway. Ron, the driver, was immobile due to the nature of his disability. The cops arrived just in time -10 minutes after the 911 call, according to reports.

Despite family and witness statements about the circumstances, Jared Bretherick was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Police found no weapon in Dunning’s vehicle. At a stand your ground hearing, Bretherick was denied immunity, yet the defense and his case centered more on Florida’s self-defense immunity statutes than on stand your ground law.

The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association had backed the state during the litigation, and Jared’s mother, Debbie Bretherick, started an organization, Mothers Against Wrongful Prosecution (MAWP), to “address the growing concerns of the policies and powers of the prosecutor’s office within the criminal justice system.”

The NRA, which had filed motions supporting Jared Bretherick, calls the court decision an attack on Second Amendment rights. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), an organization fighting against Florida’s 10-20-life sentencing, says that due to this ruling, “law-abiding gun owners in Florida are now more vulnerable to prosecution and conviction for acting in self-defense.”

In the final Florida Supreme Court ruling, Justice Barbara Pariente said immunity in stand your ground law is not blanket immunity, but requires establishing that use of force was legally justified.

She was joined in the majority opinion by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry in stating, “We conclude that placing the burden of proof on the defendant to establish entitlement to stand your ground immunity by a preponderance of the evidence at the pretrial evidentiary hearing, rather than on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s use of force was not justified, is consistent with this court’s precedent and gives effect to the legislative intent.”  Justice R. Fred Lewis concurred.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice J. Canady  said, “By imposing the burden of proof on the defendant at the pretrial evidentiary hearing, the majority substantially curtails the benefit of the immunity from trial conferred by the legislature under the stand your ground law.”

News4Jax.com reported that State Representative Alan Williams calls the ruling a chance for Florida lawmakers to scrap “stand your ground” and start over. “There are provisions of the law that allow aggressors to get away with murder, so I want us to repeal it and start over, so hopefully this is our opportunity,” Williams said.

[CORRECTION: This article has been modified from it’s original version. The sentence “Police found a weapon in Dunning’s vehicle” should have read “Police found no weapon in Dunning’s vehicle.”]



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ALEC: “No Stand On Gun Policy Whatsoever”

[UPDATED July 9, 2015]
A member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) said last week that the group – which collaborated with the National Rifle Association (NRA) to orchestrate stand your ground laws and ease restrictions on guns across America – presently has no plans to create any new policy or be involved in gun legislation. He also sidestepped a question on an ALEC-led push to repeal stand your ground laws. Perhaps they realize that they shot themselves in the foot on this controversial issue.

ALEC duck

ALEC is one of the most vilified organizations in the history of American politics. It has members who mingle in closed quarters around conservative policies affecting all of us, devising schemes called “model policies” designed to control state legislation, while exchanging clout and money in the process.

Every state in America has politicians affiliated with ALEC, a group which denies involvement in some controversial issues, and won’t admit it has anything to do with problems that arise from any policy. Yet, ALEC has everything to do with state policies, problems, and legislation. Issues like climate change and stand your ground law have caused many leading corporations to cut ties with ALEC.

In a blog piece titled “A Clear And Present Danger: The United State Of ALEC“, renowned journalist Michael Maynard compares ALEC to drug cartels.

In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post Apple CEO Tim Cook implicated ALEC when he wrote that a “wave of legislation” in the form of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) across dozens of states would allow discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens.

When asked whether the organization was involved in supporting the RFRA, ALEC spokesperson recently told Christian Science Monitor: “We do not work on firearms, marriage equality, immigration, any of those things people frequently say are ours.” Yet, legislation that spreads across multiple states – as was the case after the success of stand your ground in Florida – is usually modeled by ALEC, and this template legislation causes problems, partly because what works in one state may not work in another.

In light of recent intense public debate on gun laws, ALEC claims to be taking a back seat, although they, along with their bedfellows over at the NRA, own the very policies at the center of the gun debate.

In a series of tweets Thursday (July 2nd), research analyst William Freeland, a member listed on ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force, engaged in a lively conversation with ALECExposed and myself. He avoided a direct answer to a question on any plans to repeal stand your ground laws, and denied that the organization is directly involved in gun policy this year, though he was not speaking on behalf of ALEC.

[CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: Mr. Freeland has informed me that he is not a ‘senior staff member’, as described when this post was first published, nor was he speaking on behalf of ALEC on twitter. He is, however, listed as a member of the group’s Tax and Fiscal Ploicy Task Force. Also, there is no ALEC model policy on the RFRA listed on the ALEC website. However, the implications stand as quoted in this post.]

So, what do you think? Do you think ALEC is still working behind the scenes to influence gun laws across the country? Do you believe ALEC?
Leave your comments below.

Mass Shootings Do Little to Change State Gun Laws

Following the mass shooting in Connecticut, the Obama administration and lawmakers around the country promised to re-examine gun control in America.

ProPublica decided to take a look at what’s happened legislatively in states where some of the worst shootings in recent U.S. history have occurred to see what effect, if any, those events had on gun laws. While legislators in Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, New York, Texas and Colorado sometimes contemplated tightening rules after rampage shootings, few measures gained passage. In fact, several states have made it easier to buy more guns and take them to more places.

Also see: Crazy Gun Laws That Put Our Lives At Risk

Here’s a rundown of what’s happened in each of those states:

Vigil for victims of mass shooting at Virginia Tech (credit: vt.edu)
Vigil for victims of mass shooting at Virginia Tech (credit: vt.edu)

Virginia: After 23-year-old Virginia Tech student Seung Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members at the university in April 2007, then-Gov. Tim Kaine assigned a blue-ribbon task force to examine gun policies in the state. The task force made dozens of recommendations that, among other things, suggested that the state intensify background checks for gun purchasers, and ban firearm possession on college campuses. None of the recommendations became law.

The most significant change in Virginia came two weeks after the shooting when Kaine signed an executive order requiring the names of all people involuntarily committed to mental health facilities to be provided to a federal database called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Licensed gun dealers are supposed to check the database before they sell anyone a gun.

President George W. Bush subsequently signed federal legislation requiring all states to submit their mental health records to NICS, but to gain the support of the NRA, Congress agreed to two concessions. It made changes to the way the government defined who was “mentally defective,” excluding people, for example, who had been “fully released or discharged” from mandatory treatment. The law also gave mentally ill people an avenue for restoring their gun rights if they could prove to a court that they had been rehabilitated. After the law passed, the NRA pushed state lawmakers to limit roadblocks for people applying to regain their rights.

Virginia is particularly open to restoring peoples’ gun rights. A 2011 New York Times investigation found that the restoration process in the state allowed some people to regain access to guns simply by writing a letter to the state. Others were permitted to carry guns just weeks or months after being hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.

In 2012, the Virginia state legislature repealed a law that had barred people from buying more than one handgun per month , a law put in place because so many guns purchased in Virginia were later used in crimes committed in states with more restrictions.

The legislature also has made several changes to its gun permitting process. In March, 2012 the state eliminated municipalities’ ability to require fingerprints as part of a concealed weapon permit application. The state used to require gun owners to undergo training with a certified instructor in order to get permits, but in 2009 it adopted a law allowing people to take an hour-long online test instead. Since Virginia adopted the law, the number of concealed handgun permits the state has issued increased dramatically and many of the permits were issued to people who live in other states where Virginia permits are accepted.

In 2010, Virginia became one of five states to allow permit holders to carry concealed and loaded weapons into bars and restaurants.

Alabama: In Alabama, gun control advocates have won two small legislative victories since March 2009, when 28-year-old sausage plant worker Michael McLendon went on a three-town shooting spree, killing 10 people.

In 2011, the state made it illegal for people to buy weapons for someone else who doesn’t have permission to carry one or to provide false information about their identity to a licensed gun dealer. The law was intended to help crack down on gun trafficking. (According to data compiled by non-profit Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the state had the fifth highest rate of crime gun exports in 2009.)

After Florida teen Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February 2012, the Alabama state legislature made a slight revision to its version of a law known as the “castle doctrine,” which is meant to allow property owners to protect their homes against intruders. Alabama changed its law so that a shooter would only be entitled to civil immunity for shooting a trespasser if the property owner reacted “reasonably.”

Arizona: After former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot in the head in a hail of bullets that killed six and wounded 13, a bill was introduced in the state legislature to limit gun magazines to 10 bullets, but the bill failed in the face of pressure from the gun lobby. A similar bill was proposed in Connecticut in 2012; it didn’t pass either.

In March 2012, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill with the opposite effect, forbidding the Arizona Game and Fish Commission from limiting magazine capacity for any gun approved for hunting.

According to rankings assembled by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Arizona is “49th out of 50 2014 having enacted some of the weakest gun violence prevention laws in the country.”

Arizona doesn’t require a license to carry a concealed firearm in public, nor does it limit the number of firearms that someone can buy at once.

New York: After a mass shooting at an immigration services center in Binghamton, N.Y., where 13 people were killed and four were wounded, the state assembly entertained several bills on gun control. None passed. One bill would have given police more control over records related to firearm sales. Another would have banned 50-caliber weapons and allowed people to turn them into the state in exchange for fair market value.

Perhaps the most controversial bill in the package would have required the use of a technology called microstamping on all bullets sold in the state.

Using this technology, a serial number could be stamped on bullet casings so they could be traced back to a particular gun. The gun industry argued that the technology would be too expensive and was still unproven. Some gun manufacturers were so upset by it that they threatened to leave the state. The bill passed the Assembly in June, but the Senate did not vote on it.

In January 2012, the legislature repealed a law that previously required handgun manufacturers and dealers to share information about bullet casings and ballistics with the state. Critics of the law said the database used to maintain the information cost too much and didn’t help police.

Texas: There’s been no effort to tighten gun control in Texas since Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, 39, killed 13 and wounded 32 at a military processing center at Fort Hood in 2009.

In 2011, legislators passed two bills that gave gun carriers greater freedom to take their weapons to more places. One bill restricted employers from prohibiting guns from vehicles in parking areas and another allowed foster parents to carry handguns while transporting their foster children, as long as they are licensed carriers.

Colorado: Aurora graduate student James Eagan Holmes, 24, killed 12 and wounded 58 in a movie theater in July, 2012.

Century 16 theater in Aurora CO
Century 16 theater in Aurora CO

At the time, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper suggested that families of victims needed time to grieve before a discussion on gun control could begin in the state.

After the Connecticut shooting, Hickenlooper said that “the time is right” for the state to consider stronger gun control legislation. He introduced a measure to strengthen background checks for gun buyers.

This article, by Joaquin Sapien,  was originally published on ProPublica, Jan. 3, 2013. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

Florida Lawmakers Kill Stand Your Ground Repeal Bill At Hearing

At a hearing on last Thursday, Florida lawmakers gave some young people a slap in the face, voting 11-2 against a bill calling for a full repeal of the state’s stand your ground law.

The Florida House of Representatives also gave some attendees the impression they had come into the hearing with their minds already made up that they would shoot down SB 4003, a bill introduced by State Representative Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee).

Florida stand your ground repeal hearing Nov. 7 2013
Stand Your Ground Hearing at Florida Capitol (photo by EasyG for endstandyourground)

The lawmakers questioned Williams at length during the five-hour hearing, with much grilling coming from Chairman Matt Gaetz, who sometimes appeared to try to ridicule Williams’ attempts to sell the bill. Gaetz has been infamously quoted as saying he will not change “one damn comma” of Florida’s stand your ground law.

Williams insisted that his bill would simply cause the state’s current self-defense law to revert to its original form, what he called “common law” that existed before the 2005 legislation which enacted stand your ground law.

Gaetz used the opportunity draw an analogy between stand your ground with Williams’ common law, referring to the two as “buckets of laws”, one with more self-defense rights (stand your ground), and the other with less rights. He questioned which would be more preferable to someone who had the urgency to defend themselves.

The Webster Room in Florida’s Capitol was almost filled to capacity with about an equal amount of polarized HB 4003 proponents like the Dream Defenders, and opponents like NRA members occupying opposite sides of the room.

“Remember November” were the words used by Dream Defenders leader Philip Agnew as he spoke at the hearing. He was referring to next year’s state elections, when legislators seeking re-election face this new young breed of voters. Teenagers as young as 14 years-old spoke in favor of a repeal.

The lawmakers also heard from Lucia Mcbath, mother of stand your ground victim Jordan Davis, as she made another impassioned plea calling for changes in the law. She had appeared days earlier at a U.S. Senate hearing on stand your ground.

Ron Davis, the teenager’s father, also called for changes, and the House heard from attorney Daryl Parks, representing Sybrina Fulton & Tracy Martin, parents of Trayvon Martin, who were not at the hearing.

Gun advocate Marion Hammer, a past president of the NRA,  made a short statement, purporting that “stand your ground is a good law”, and many other gun advocates spoke out against the repeal bill, or waived their chance to speak in opposition.

Before the lawmakers even voted on Williams’ bill, several in the proponent camp appeared to believe that the House would vote against the repeal. Agnew, the Dream Defenders leader, said, “It’s not over. We’ll just regroup and come back stronger next time.”

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Panel At U.S. Senate Hearing Appears Against Stand Your Ground Laws

Last week, for the first time, the federal government held a hearing on stand your ground laws in America, with testimony that was riveting and sometimes emotional, as most of those on a nine-member panel testified against the laws.

US Senate stand your ground hearing on October 29, 2013
US Senate stand your ground hearing on October 29, 2013

The two hour hearing, entitled “Stand Your Ground Laws: Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force”, by the Senate Judiciary Committee‘s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, was significant in itself, since each state in the union has it’s own laws on self defense, “shoot-first” and deadly force.

In every state that has a “stand your ground”-type provision, the law is similar, and universally includes a “no duty to retreat” imposed by these new laws, but vary in use of deadly force.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) at stand your ground hearing October 29, 2013
Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois)

Committee Chairman Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) appeared to favor some type of federal legislation, although federal authority cannot dictate state laws on self-defense.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) emphasized this, even implicating there may be a “political agenda” behind the hearing. His cohort, Texas State Representative Louis Gourmet (R) echoed the sentiment that legislation on the laws must be left with the states.

But Durbin acknowledged the NRA-ALEC connection to stand your ground laws, and cited past or recent studies and reports which he said show that stand your ground law allowed “shooters to walk free in shocking situations. Durbin said the laws “emboldened those who carry guns to initiate confrontations which have ended up killing unarmed children, increase racial disparity,” and said, “it’s clear these laws often go too far in encouraging confrontations that escalate into deadly violence.”

Senator Ted Cruz at stand your ground hearing October 29, 2013
Senator Ted Cruz

Cruz, of course, defended stand your ground, expounding the benefits of the second amendment. He claims that doing away with the laws would take away the right to defend yourself on a public street.

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) used the Trayvon Martin shooting as an example of racial profiling and said George Zimmerman was exonerated due to the laws, calling the laws unjust and biased.

Illinois State Representative Luis Guitterez (D) blamed the gun lobby on spreading an agenda of shoot first. and said he was shocked by the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the fact that no one was immediately arrested, and that there was no conviction.

Sybrina Fulton testifies at Senate stand your ground hearing
Sybrina Fulton, seated next to Prof. Ron Sullivan (r), testifies at Senate stand your ground hearing

Sybrina Fulton spoke about her son Trayvon, and said it is important that stand your ground is amended, saying “this law does not work” and that law enforcement and legal authorities should be contacted to do something about the laws.

Professor Ron Sullivan, Jr., Director of Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute explained a correlation between stand your ground and violence, and spoke out against racial profiling and policing by citizens.

David Labahn, President of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, replaced William Meggs on the panel, and offered recommendations for reforms He said stand your ground provides “safe harbor” for criminals, and ties up the legal system with cases.

Ilya Shapiro, of CATO Institute, another proponent of the laws, defended stand your ground, while an opponent of the laws, John Lott, attempted to explain effects of racial disparities and gun laws on the outcome of incidents and statistics.

Lucia Mcbath testifies at US Senate hearing on stand your ground
Lucia Mcbath testifies at US Senate hearing on stand your ground

Yet it was Lucia Mcbath who gave the most riveting, emotional testimony, recounting the November incident last year which took the life of her son Jordan Davis. Mcbath, now the national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action, said she faces “the very real possibility that her son’s killer will walk free.”

Mcbath spoke of how the laws empower people like Michael Dunn – the man accused of gunning down her son – who she said had “no ground to stand”,  and said the law “declares open season on anyone we don’t trust for reasons we don’t even understand…in essence it allows any armed citizen to self-deputize themselves and establish their own definition of law and order…even the wild west had more stringent laws than what we have now.”

She appeared to break down, her voice cracking, as she spoke of how she never got to take Davis’ prom picture or see him graduate from high school and her memories of him. Lawmakers did not call on neither of the mothers for questioning.

WATCH THE WEBCAST HERE: http://www.senate.gov/isvp/?comm=judiciary&type=live&filename=judiciary102913

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Dream Defenders Suspect Foul Play

dream defenders logoThe Dream Defenders are prophetic young people with a vision. The activism group correctly predicted that, at a Judiciary committee hearing, Senate Bill 122, introduced by Senator Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale), would be killed, and that SB 130 , filed by Senator David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs), would pass – leaving a dangerous part of present stand-your-ground laws intact. That’s what happened today.

This kind of underhanded, deceitful, problematic, and insensitive law-making cannot and will not be tolerated by those who pay the salaries of and vote to elect officials sworn to act in the best interests of the people. It cannot and will not be tolerated by those who are against stand your ground laws.

We support you, Dream Defenders, for being such an inspiring force, salute you on a great video, and share your vision!

Here is a statement and video on YouTube that tells the story:

Two bills have been introduced that would make changes to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. One bill, SB122, is by Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith. The other bill, SB130, is by Senate Majority Whip David H. Simmons.

The key difference between the two is that Chris Smith’s bill (SB122) attempts to fix the “No Duty To Retreat” loophole, which allows people to leave places of safety to aggress towards a perceived threat. This loophole empowers people to go out of their way to pursue violence.

It is likely that the Senate will attempt to kill Smith’s bill (SB122) and pass Simmons’ bill (SB130), which leaves “No Duty to Retreat” untouched.

‘No duty to retreat’ is one of the most problematic provisions of Stand Your Ground. Dream Defenders believe if there is an opportunity for retreat, there should be a duty to retreat as well. A society that isn’t encouraging a responsible ‘duty to retreat’ in public spaces is encouraging violence and recklessness.

A repeal of Stand Your Ground is central to the Dream Defenders’ package of legislation, Trayvon’s Law. If a full repeal is not possible, we support the best reform possible. We will examine and recommend changes to reform legislation with respect to legitimate concerns. – Dream Defenders

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