Florida House Subcommittee Stands Firm on Self-defense

Posted on November 8, 2013

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As we reported last week, stand-your-ground laws--under which peaceful, law-abiding persons can defend themselves without first having to retreat from their assailants--have come under attack by those who would do away with the right of self-defense altogether.   According to such people, ordinary Americans are too prejudiced to be trusted to exercise their rights.  Opponents of self-defense have shown themselves willing to stoop to any level to smear those who support strong self-defense laws, even portraying the mere act of owning a gun as evidence of racism.

While such outrageous and unfounded tactics are nothing new, they have gained renewed popularity in the wake of the highly-publicized case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.  Despite highly-dubious reporting on that case and despite the fact that most media outlets now recognize that  retreat was not a decisive issue in the case, it has become a rallying cry that is supposed to silence all support for the law.  Fortunately, that has not happened.  Supporters of the stand-your-ground concept have continued to stand with peaceful, law-abiding persons and against criminal aggressors in defending this long-established principle of American law.    

On Thursday, the Florida House Criminal Justice Subcommittee held a five-hour hearing on HB 4003, heralded by its supporters as the first bill ever introduced to repeal a stand-your-ground law.  The hearing was reported to be a "direct result of a 31-day protest against the law from the Dream Defenders, a group of young activists who camped out at the Florida Capitol, vowing not to leave until Gov. Rick Scott held a special session to discuss the law." Predictably, opponents of the law resorted to their usual divisive and emotionally-charged tactics, absurdly claiming, "The law we are speaking about rests only on fear, on prejudice, and on hate." 

As Marion Hammer, testifying on behalf of NRA and Unified Sportsman of Florida, noted in her remarks, "A duty to retreat in the face of attack protects the life and safety of an attacker and jeopardizes the life and safety of a victim."  Supporters of Florida's stand-your-ground statute have repeatedly explained that its protections are not available to a person who is "engaged in an unlawful activity" or "[i]nitially provokes the use of force against himself or herself."  They only apply, moreover, when the person has an actual and objectively reasonable belief that force is necessary to "prevent death or great bodily harm" or "to prevent the commission of a forcible felony." 

Ms. Hammer's testimony therefore aptly characterized the duty to retreat as signaling "that the justice system places more value on the life of a criminal than the life of a victim."  On the other hand, the stand-your-ground law, as Ms. Hammer observed, "puts the rights of victims ahead of the rights of criminals."

These are not complicated concepts.  They are intuitive and of universal applicability.  That's probably why Florida's 2005 stand-your ground law passed unanimously in the Senate and with overwhelming (94 to 20), bipartisan support in the House.  It's also likely why the Subcommittee on Thursday voted down HB 4003, 11 to 2. 

Rest assured, the attacks against stand-your-ground and self-defense will continue.  Stay tuned to these alerts for further developments.  In the meantime, we thank those who remained on the side of the law-abiding, including Chairman Gaetz (R), Vice Chairman Pilon (R), and Ranking Member Slosberg (D), and Reps. Clelland (D), Eagle (R), Grant (R), Harrell (R), Hood (R), Hutson (R), Kerner (D), and Van Zant (R).

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