CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist said Thursday that Florida should review two controversial gun laws that he supported when he was the state’s Republican governor.
Speaking at the annual convention of the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, Crist said state lawmakers should reconsider the “stand your ground” law that allows someone to use deadly force if they believe their life is in jeopardy.
He also said the Legislature should review the “10-20-life” rule after hearing the circumstances of a case in which a man was sentenced to 80 years in prison for firing a gun into the air.
“I’m always open-minded to looking at those kinds of things,” Crist said of the gun laws, adding that the measures may have resulted in unintended consequences. “When you’re faced with new facts, I think you ought to listen.”
The former Republican governor has been working to burnish his Democratic credentials as he faces a primary challenge from former state Sen. Nan Rich, a liberal firebrand who has struggled to raise the kind of money typically necessary to run a statewide race.
While the “stand your ground” law remains popular in Florida, changing the measure has been a Democratic cause since the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in central Florida. On Thursday, Crist recalled the acquittal of George Zimmerman without using his name, saying “the instigator of an event has no punishment for taking a life. There’s something wrong with that.”
On the “10-20-life” law, Crist responded to a question about the case of Ronald Williams, who received four mandatory minimum sentences under the law after being convicted of pointing a gun at four gay men who were whistling and ogling him from a neighbor’s Riviera Beach home and then firing into the air several times. Nobody was injured.
The judge who sentenced him said the law gave him no leeway and that the sentences had to run consecutively — effectively handing down a life sentence for Williams, who was 26 at the time of the crime. An appeals court agreed. Williams has appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that judges should have more discretion.
“It doesn’t sound fair and it doesn’t sound equitable,” Crist said of the sentence. “I think fairness should be the standard on which we look at any statute.”
Facing questions about his political conversion, the former Republican called his party switch “very authentic,” saying he had grown uncomfortable in the GOP because of its positions on gay rights, women’s issues and environmental protection.
He detailed a laundry list of actions he took as governor that aligned him with Democrats, including vetoing measures that would have instituted a merit-pay system for teachers and required women to undergo ultrasounds before having abortions. He also touted his efforts to restore voting rights for ex-felons and extend voting hours in the 2008 presidential election.
While Crist acknowledged Florida’s economic recovery under Republican Gov. Rick Scott, he said middle class families were still struggling. “It’s not so rosy out there,” Crist said. “I think it’s improved some but we can be doing a lot more.”
He criticized Scott for not pushing the GOP-led Legislature to expand Medicaid — a key part of the new federal health care law — and called for more investment in the state’s education system.
Scott declined an invitation to speak at the convention, but the Republican Party of Florida criticized Crist for job losses and debt growth during his governorship. “Charlie might be a smooth politician, but Rick Scott is the better governor,” said state Sen. Anitere Flores in a statement. “No amount of professional mud-slinging will fix his failed record.”
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