Trayvon Martin’s mother told a panel of senators Tuesday that state “stand your ground” self-
defense laws do not work and must be amended, reviving the politically charged gun-control issue a year ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.
But little besides politics emerged from the session, held in the Senate’s made-for-television hearing room. Democrats, who hold majority power in the Senate and are trying to keep it, supported Sybrina Fulton’s call. Republicans, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), said the matter should be left to the states that passed the laws.
“The states are doing quite well . . . without our interference,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Said Cruz: “This is not about politicking. This is not about inflaming racial tensions. This is about the right of everyone to protect themselves and protect their families.” Cruz made reference to statistics that, he said, show that African Americans cite stand-your-ground laws in self-defense at least as often as whites.
Race and politics were unmistakably woven into the event and the broader public-policy debate. There’s little willingness in Congress to weigh in on the laws of the states that have some form of the policy. These laws generally cancel a person’s duty to retreat in the face of a serious physical attack.
Members of Congress are busily engaged in their reelection efforts for next year’s midterms, with 35 seats in the Senate, all 435 seats in the GOP-controlled House and the majorities of both chambers hanging in the balance. Gun control is a politically divisive issue, more so in the aftermath of the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and at the Washington Navy Yard, among others.
The 2012 shooting death of Martin, 17 and unarmed, and the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Martin’s death stirred racial tensions and sparked debate over stand-your-ground laws in Florida and at least 21 other states.
Martin’s mother told the panel that she attended the hearing so senators can “at least put a face with what has happened with this tragedy.”
“I just wanted to come here to . . . let you know how important it is that we amend this stand your ground, because it certainly did not work in my case,” Fulton said, speaking without consulting prepared remarks. “The person that shot and killed my son is walking the streets today. This law does not work.”
Lucia Holman McBath, the mother of Jordan Russell Davis, implored the Senate to resolve the nation’s debate. Her 17-year-old son was shot and killed nearly one year ago in Jacksonville, Fla., when Michael David Dunn, 46, allegedly opened fire on a Dodge Durango with four teenagers inside after complaining about their loud music and saying he saw a gun and thus a threat. Authorities never found a gun in the vehicle, the Florida Times-Union reported. Dunn’s trial is set for next year.
“You can lift this nation from its internal battle in which guns rule over right,” McBath told the panel.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 22 states have laws that allow that “there is no duty to retreat [from] an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present.” The states are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia, according to the NCSL.
At least nine of those state laws include language stating that one may “stand his or her ground”: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, according to the NCSL.