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Do you think Florida's 'stand your ground' will cut violent crime?

After the Trayvon Martin tragedy a year ago, the slain teen's parents asked the governor and legislature to review and possibly amend Florida's "stand your ground" law, which has been was cited as a defense by the man who shot their son. The 2005 law gives people the right to use deadly force to defend themselves from attacks even when it would be possible to avoid violence by retreating.

Traditionally in homicide cases, self-defense was only allowed where the accused, due to an unprovoked attack, had been in reasonable fear of his life or serious injury and had no way to prevent that without killing the attacker. According to press reports, which have not been examined by a judge or jury, it appears that Trayvon Martin did not attack or overtly threaten the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot him.

"Just review and amend it," Trayvon Martin's father asked after the shooting. "I had to bury my son at 17. He was committing no crime. He was doing no wrong."

Governor Scott and the legislature agreed to set up a task force, and their report is now complete. Now, with the tragic events of Sandy Hook Elementary School in mind, questions about "stand your ground" law are even more important. Do you think the law will help stop such vicious and violent crimes?

According to a 44-page report by the 19-member Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection, the law does not need to be overturned but has areas of weakness that need shoring up. In particular, the group found the role of neighborhood watch volunteers problematic. It recommended to the Legislature that such volunteers should not be covered by the law. Instead, their role should be limited to monitoring their volunteer areas and calling police. In no case should they be authorized to provoke, pursue or even confront suspects.

The task force's vice chairman, at least, did recognize that the law has resulted in "an increased death toll that falls disproportionately on minority groups." It also said that the "stand your ground" defense had not been applied uniformly in cases across the state, which puts people at risk for injustice while also affecting the willingness of people to rely on the law.

Perhaps most important, the circumstances under which a person accused of homicide might have a valid "stand your ground" defense are not clearly defined. The vice chairman, a Baptist pastor, described the problem this way: "[S]hooting a person in the back, as he is trying to escape, is, by definition, not self-defense."

The Republican-led legislature is unlikely to overturn the law altogether, although at least one bill requiring an overt act of violence before the defense could be invoked as been proposed.

What do you think about Florida's "stand your ground" law? Is it a way for law-abiding people to defend themselves against violent crimes, or is it a way to get away with murder?

Source: Daytona Beach News-Journal, "Task force says 'stand your ground' law works," Brent Kallestad, Associated Press, Feb. 22, 2013

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