Jeb Bush Thinks Stand Your Ground Law Has Been Fantastic for Florida

George Zimmerman. Michael Dunn. Marissa Alexander. Curtis Reeves. To most Floridians, those names bring one thing to mind: our state's troubled "Stand Your Ground" law, which has brought more legal headaches, bad press, and miscarriages of justice to the Sunshine State than even Gov. Rick Scott could dream up.

To Jeb Bush, though, those cases are apparently all markers of sound policy. As he ramps up his campaign to woo right-leaning primary voters, Bush will speak to the NRA today and plans to highlight just how great Stand Your Ground — which he signed as governor — has worked out in Florida.

Bush leaked his talking points for his speech in Nashville later today to the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum. In sum, he'll play up what a gun-friendly governor he was, a record that will help him push back on primary voters who think he's too liberal on immigration and education policy.

He'll mention his A+ NRA rating, the "Six Pack of Freedom" bills he passed as governor to weaken (the already almost-nonexistent) gun control laws in the state, and build up concealed-weapons rules.

But his centerpiece talking point will be Stand Your Ground, which he signed in 2005. In the decade since, dozens of other states have followed his lead

The Wall Street Journal tracks back on Bush's emails with the NRA leading up to signing the law, noting that the gun group helped craft the bill and promised it would make Florida a pioneer. 

They were right about that. The law, which gives sweeping protections for anyone to use deadly force if they feel their own life is in danger, has resulted in one legal quagmire after another across Florida. 
Most famously, of course, has been the George Zimmerman case, in which a self-proclaimed "neighborhood watchman" assaulted an unarmed teen walking home and then shot him when he fought back. Bush quickly declared that Zimmerman was wrong to hide behind Stand Your Ground, saying he backed the law when "applied properly."

But that nuance gets to the heart of why the law has been so confounding to prosecutors in Florida. Even when the law was being debated, legislators pointed out a glaring problem with the bill: It makes no mention that if someone can safely flee or walk away from a confrontation, they have a duty to do so. 

"It may be somebody that deserves it," Rep. Dan Gelber told the Tampa Bay Times last year. "But at the end of the day, if you can walk away safely or resist the impulse to kill, I think you ought to."

Bush and his supporters wouldn't add an amendment to make that clear, though, and the result is cases like those involving Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, the Jacksonville man who fatally shot an unarmed teenager at a gas station in an argument over loud music. Zimmerman, of course, walked away scot-free from his criminal charges, and Dunn's first jury ended up with a hung verdict thanks to confusion over his rights under Stand Your Ground. (He was later convicted in a second trial.)  Florida's next test of the absurdity of Stand Your Ground comes in August, when Tampa resident Curtis Reeves goes on trial for shooting an unarmed man in a movie theater after arguing about texting.

Bush will paint this legal chaos as sound policy today, and hundreds of NRA members will lustily cheer him on for doing so. Let's hope Florida remembers the scene when presidential elections come around in the Sunshine State.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink