Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which lets you shoot anyone who threatens your life, even if you provoked the encounter, is so shitty it's been clearly tied to a huge uptick in murders since it was passed in 2005. It sucks so bad it let George Zimmerman kill 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in 2012. It sucks so bad that the incident basically created the modern Black Lives Matter movement. Yet Florida legislators last year voted to strengthen the law and make it easier for people to kill others and invoke Stand Your Ground protections.
But today, Hollywood, Florida Rep. Shevrin Jones formally introduced a bill to repeal the state's Stand Your Ground law. In the state's Republican-dominated, National Rifle Association-worshipping Legislature, the bill faces a steep uphill battle. Regardless, Jones has filed HB 6073 in an attempt to right what he says is a law that encourages Floridians to murder one another.
“The stand your ground law has evolved into something no longer about self-defense, but has become a legalized way for bad actors to get away with aggression, mal intent, and fatal violence,” Jones said today in a news release. “When stand your ground was originally being considered and vetted within the Legislature, its purpose was to allow the use of deadly force in times of self-defense, but instead, it has shifted the burden of proof onto our police and prosecutors. This law does not increase public safety and has actually led to a rise in homicides and firearm-related homicides in Florida.”
Jones said he also spoke to Tangela Sears, Miami's loudest activist fighting gun violence (and the subject of a 2015 New Times profile), who said she supports the bill.
“My son was unarmed and murdered in Tallahassee on May 20, 2015," Sears said today. "The killer, who was found not guilty by a jury, was armed with a pocket gun, shot gun, and machete. The Stand Your Ground law goes too far, and it increases the self-defense doctrine to create an excuse for the use of deadly force in situations where it is not warranted.”
Florida's Stand Your Ground law was the first in a wave of similar "shoot first" bills to flood state legislatures in the early 2000s. The Sunshine State's law was written by then-Rep. (and now state Sen.) Dennis Baxley, who has proven himself to be one of Florida's most transparently racist lawmakers in the years since. Baxley has since fought building a state monument to victims of slavery, stating he does not want to "celebrate defeat" (he later reversed his position after a sit-down meeting with Miami state Rep. Kionne McGhee). Baxley also attended a pro-Confederate group's meeting mere days after that organization, Save Southern Heritage, sent a representative to the pro-Nazi "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a neo-Nazi killed a civil rights protester.
There's also hard data to show the state's murder rate has spiked since the law went into effect. In 2016, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), one of the world's top medical publications, released a study showing that after 2005, an "abrupt and sustained" increase in state homicides occurred. Analysts were also able to weed out deaths by suicide to prove people were killing one another after the bill passed.
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"The implementation of Florida’s stand your ground self-defense law was associated with a significant increase in homicides and homicides by firearm, but no change in rates of suicide or suicide by firearm," JAMA researchers wrote. A 2012 Texas A&M study made the same point. Astoundingly, firearm homicides were actually decreasing in Florida before Stand Your Ground took effect.
In 2016, courts ruled the law also applied to on-duty cops who killed people: Broward Sheriff's Dep. Peter Peraza invoked Stand Your Ground and beat manslaughter charges after he killed Jermaine McBean, who was holding an unloaded air rifle who was likely wearing earbuds when Peraza shot him dead.
Then state legislators last year passed a bill that made it even easier to invoke the law after killing someone: Last year's measure shifted the burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases onto prosecutors, who now must prove murder suspects were not defending themselves if they invoke the law. Previously, defendants had to show they shot in self-defense.
"Advocates of the laws suggest that the increased threat of retaliatory violence deters would-be burglars, resulting in fewer intruder encounters," JAMA wrote in 2016. "Critics are concerned that weakening the punitive consequences of using force may serve to escalate aggressive encounters. They also argue that these laws may exacerbate racial disparities in homicide where threats motivated by racial stereotypes produce unnecessary fatalities."