TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - .Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith said Wednesday that the state's culture of violence calls for changes to the "stand your ground" self-defense law, but the Senate President sent a clear signal that major changes aren't likely.
"To put our heads in the sand when it comes to this controversial (law) is wrong," Smith told a gathering of newspaper editors at the Associated Press Annual Legislative Planning session in Tallahassee.
The law propelled Florida into the national spotlight last year when a neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed an unarmed 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, who was visiting his father in a Sanford gated community.
After weeks of national protests when the Sanford police initially declined to arrest the shooter, Gov. Rick Scott appointed a task force to study the law and make recommendations on its use. The panel's draft findings did not call for significant changes.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he won't support any major changes, either.
"I don't plan to vote for any repeal of stand your ground or any weakening of the Second Amendment," said Gaetz, who also spoke to the AP gathering.
Smith had asked to be appointed to the Scott task force, but was not. Instead, he convened a task force in his Fort Lauderdale-area district.
On Wednesday, Smith said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement should keep records on the use of "stand your ground," a proposal (SB 136) in a bill he's already filed.
He also suggested giving law enforcement officers the ability to detain someone who claims "stand your ground" in order to do an investigation.
And he called for preventing the aggressor in an incident to claim "stand your ground." Instead, Smith said, a jury should decide if the aggressor was rational in his or her actions.
Other lawmakers are filing bills directed at "stand your ground," including Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, who filed an outright repeal with the support of Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala and sponsor of the original 2005 "stand your ground" law, also has resisted major changes.
"I'm going to be very cautious about doing anything that will diminish the ability of a law-abiding citizen to defend themselves from harm," said Baxley, who sat on the Scott task force and chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
"We will consider anything," Baxley added. "That doesn't mean we'll hear it in committee."
Smith said he knew Republican legislative leaders were reluctant to give his ideas a hearing, but he's digging in.
"I've tried to do it the nice way of waiting," he said. "And now I think we're going to put more pressure and really start really making it a major issue."
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