The political battle over ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws
The shooting of teen Trayvon Martin in Florida last week has sparked a national debate over “stand your ground” laws.
But in many states, fights over the controversial legislation have been going on for years without garnering much attention from anyone other than prosecutors and gun-rights activists.
While George Zimmerman admits to shooting Martin, he says he acted in self defense and has not yet been arrested. Under a 2005 Florida law, a citizen who uses deadly force is immune from prosecution when “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”
Backed by the National Rifle Association, first in Florida and then around the country, state legislators have pushed for expanding the right to use deadly force. Twenty-one states now have laws giving citizens wide latitude to use deadly force without first attempting to retreat.
Here are some states where “Stand Your Ground” was recently passed or is currently up for debate.
* A bill passed by the legislature in Minnesota was just vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D).
* In Pennsylvania, former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) vetoed a “stand your ground” bill; it was signed last year by Gov. Tom Corbett (R).
* Democratic lawmakers staged a walk-out in Iowa recently to avoid a vote on the legislation. The legislation will probably be blocked on procedural grounds this year, but state Rep. Matt Windschitl (R) plans to reintroduce it next year.
“I anticipate that there are some people who are going to try use this unforunate incident as an excuse not to expand Iowans’ right to self -defense,” Windschitl said, but argued that this one case had to be balanced against the lives saved by laws like the one in Florida.
* In New Hampshire last fall, Republicans in the state legislature overrode a veto from Gov. John Lynch (D) in order to pass a “Stand Your Ground” bill.
“I think if we end up with more moderate Republicans and certainly more Democrats” after the 2012 elections, “it could be on the table again,” said state Rep. Christopher Serlin (D).
* In Alaska, legislation has passed the House and is currently being considered by the state Senate.
Not every “Stand Your Ground” law came from a purely Republican-controlled state government, however.
Oklahoma’s Democratic governor signed one in 2006, as part of the first wave of “Stand Your Ground” success. So did Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano, when she was the Democratic governor of Arizona. In Alabama, a bill identical to Florida’s was first introduced by a Democrat.
Overall, however, there is a partisan divide — particularly in the past two years as advocates have attempted to bring the legislation to less-conservative states — with Republicans supporting the bills and Democrats opposing them.
In states where the policy has yet to become law, supporters will likely find new resistance. In states where it has recently become law, its supporters could face a backlash.
Supporters of “Stand Your Ground” argue that it doesn’t apply in this case and does not protect killers who did not act in true self-defense. (Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have also suggested the law does not apply.) Opponents say that the law encourages vigilante justice by creating ambiguity.
“We’ve never thought by itself that the law is the main issue,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “What we think is the main issue is the mentality that that law provides.”