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Stand-your-ground laws won't likely change

MIAMI -- Despite an outcry from civil rights groups, a call for close examination by President Barack Obama and even a 1960s-style sit-in at the Florida governor's office, the jury's verdict that George Zimmerman was justified in shooting unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin is unlikely to spur change in any of the nation's stand-your-ground self-defense laws.

"I support stand your ground," Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said last week.

"I do not see any reason to change it," said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, also a Republican.

At least 22 states have laws similar to that in Florida, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many lean toward laws that defend gun owners' rights. So far, there does not appear to be an appetite in Florida or other states to repeal or change the laws, which generally eliminate a person's duty to retreat in the face of a serious physical threat, and some states are moving in the opposite direction.

Zimmerman, 29, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, was acquitted this month of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the 2012 shooting of Martin, 17, in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman told police he shot only after the black teen physically attacked him; Martin's family and supporters say Zimmerman, who identifies himself as Hispanic, racially profiled Martin as a potential criminal and wrongly followed him.

Jurors were told in final instructions that they should acquit if they found "[Zimmerman] had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary."

Since the stand-your-ground law was enacted, justifiable homicides in Florida have risen from an annual average of 13.2 between 2001 and 2005 to an average of 42 between 2006 and 2012, including a record 66 in 2012, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Attorney General Eric Holder, in a speech last week to the NAACP convention in Orlando, said the Martin shooting demonstrates a need to re-examine stand-your-ground laws nationwide.

Republican Sen. John McCain joined the call yesterday, urging state legislatures to review their stand-your-ground statutes, including in his home state. "I'm confident that the members of the Arizona legislature will . . . because it is a very controversial legislation," he said on CNN.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, appearing yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," called the laws "one of the things that has incited and ignited, I believe, this movement across the nation, which I think is the beginning of a new civil rights movement."

Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said during the same show it's not proper for the federal government to tell states with stand-your-ground laws how to change or remake them. "This is something that's going to have to be worked out state by state," he said.

Civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, said they would push for repeal of the laws, starting in Florida, where a group of young protesters occupied GOP Gov. Rick Scott's office demanding change.

After Holder's speech, the National Rifle Association claimed that Obama's administration was aiming more at the broader political goal of restricting gun rights.

"The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept, it's a fundamental human right," said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.

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