TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CBS Tampa/AP) — Florida’s self-defense laws — including a measure known as the “stand your ground” law — will be examined over the next year by a task force put together by Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott announced the start of the task force a week after neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was arrested on second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of teenager Travyon Martin. Zimmerman has maintained that he acted in self-defense. He was not initially charged on the night of Martin’s death.
Scott maintained the panel does not have any “preconceived notions” on what changes, if any, should be made.
“I’m a firm supporter of the Second amendment,” the Republican governor said. “I also want to make sure we don’t rush to any conclusions on the stand your ground law or any other laws in our state.”
But it didn’t take some Democratic legislators very long to start questioning whether the task force will recommend any meaningful changes based on who was appointed.
The 17-member group is led by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and includes the state attorney from Miami-Dade County as well as a former state Supreme Court justice, a judge, a criminal defense attorney, a neighborhood watch coordinator and an assistant public defender.
But the panel also includes Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala and the sponsor of the “stand your ground” law as well as another Republican legislator who co-sponsored a controversial measure that restricts what doctors can say about guns to their patients.
Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, said she was concerned that Scott “had stacked the panel with members in favor of the status quo.”
Carroll said the governor’s office did not go out and recruit people for the panel, but she said instead that they picked people who applied to be on the panel, called the “Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection.”
But Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale and an ardent critic of the existing law, said he followed the initial instructions by Scott that he would select members based on advice from legislative leaders. He said he told Senate leaders about his interest.
“If they ever read a newspaper or watched a broadcast, they could have assumed I wanted to be on the task force even without an application,” Smith said.
Florida passed the “stand your ground law” seven years ago. It allows use of deadly force to prevent “imminent death or great bodily harm,” and it removed a person’s duty to retreat in the face of such peril that was required in a previous self-defense law. The change was strongly backed by the National Rifle Association.
Carroll herself voted for the measure when she was in the Legislature but would not say on Thursday whether she thought the law should remain on the books.
Baxley said he is not opposed to looking at how the law has been applied and whether it should be amended. He argued that there is nothing in the law that allows someone to “pursue” or “confront” someone.
“I’m truly hopeful that this very tragic situation could yield a better articulation of when and how the statute applies,” Baxley said.
But he said the point of the law was to allow people to defend themselves.
“I wouldn’t want to do anything that diminishes the well-being of our citizens and their ability to protect themselves from harm,” he said.
Smith also questioned whether or not the governor had placed enough legal experts on the panel. Smith, who says Scott should consider calling lawmakers back into special session to repeal the existing law, had put together his own task force which held its first meeting earlier this month.
That panel was told that the Martin shooting is one example of the ambiguity surrounding the “stand your ground’ law and the potential unintended – and dangerous – consequences it has created.
Smith, who is an attorney, said he was unsure that some of those chosen by Scott would be able to “grasp” all the technical and legal arguments of the existing law.
Carroll said Thursday that the group will hold its first meeting in May and will hold public hearings and use research from the University of Florida to gauge the impact of the state’s existing self-defense laws. She said the plan is to come up with a set of recommendations for Scott and the Legislature in time for the 2013 session that starts next March.
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