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Florida Governor Stands Firm On 'Stand Your Ground' Law

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to protesters Thursday in the Capitol in Tallahassee. Scott told the protesters that he won't ask lawmakers to revamp the state's controversial self-defense law.
Phil Sears
Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to protesters Thursday in the Capitol in Tallahassee. Scott told the protesters that he won't ask lawmakers to revamp the state's controversial self-defense law.

In the days after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin, protesters camped out at Gov. Rick Scott's office in Tallahassee, calling for a meeting.

When Scott met with 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."

Scott called for a statewide day of prayer for unity on Sunday, but he said he's not budging on stand your ground.

"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.

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. Similar provisions have since been adopted by some 30 other states.

After Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the 2012 shooting death of the unarmed Martin, 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.

The day after the verdict, singer Stevie Wonder said he would not perform in the state until the law was repealed. And an 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, said many opponents don't really understand that the law 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 [is] trying to carjack you, and you have to meet force with force," you should know that the state of Florida won't prosecute 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.

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

Democrats are in the minority in both chambers of Florida's Legislature. In the last session, efforts to change 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 Smith says it's now 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. 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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.

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