Room for Debate

A Necessary Law, but Not in This Case

Dennis K. Baxley

Dennis K. Baxley, Republican of Ocala, sponsored the Stand Your Ground law in the Florida House of Representatives.

March 21, 2012

The tragic story of Trayvon Martin's death has ignited a great deal of debate about the Stand Your Ground law that seems to allow the defense claimed by his attacker, George Zimmerman. As the prime sponsor of this legislation in the Florida House, I'd like to clarify that there is nothing in the law that provides for the opportunity to pursue and confront individuals. It simply lets those who would be victims use force in self-defense.

The catalytic event that the led to the legislation’s passage in 2005, was the looting of property in the aftermath of hurricanes. Specifically, there was a situation in the panhandle of Florida where a citizen moved an RV onto his property, to protect the remains of his home from being looted. One evening, a perpetrator broke into the RV and attacked the property owner. The property owner, acting in self defense in his home, shot and killed the perpetrator. It was months before he knew whether he would be charged with a crime because there was no clear legal definition of self defense in such a case or of when a potential victim was required to retreat.

Inspired by homeowners fending off looters, the law wasn't meant to defend a shooter who pursued someone who had not threatened him.

The Stand Your Ground law, as passed, clarified that individuals are lawfully able to defend themselves when attacked and there is no duty to retreat when an individual is attacked on his property. Since its enactment, 20 other states have implemented similar statues. Additionally, the American Legislative Exchange Council used the Florida law as model legislation for other states. Quite simply it is a good law that now protects individuals in most states.

But media reports about Trayvon Martin's death indicate that Zimmerman's unnecessary pursuit and confrontation of Martin elevated the prospect of a violent episode, and does not seem to be an act of self defense as defined by the law.

I have great sympathy for the family of Trayvon Martin and am grateful that a grand jury is further exploring what actually happened on that night in Sanford. I trust that justice will prevail.

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Topics: Law, criminal justice, guns

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