'Stand your ground' law changes approved

Committee votes 7-2 to approve changes to Fla. self-defense law

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Many questions were still being asked Tuesday night after a Florida Senate committee approved tweaks and clarifications to the controversial "stand your ground" law -- the law which came under scrutiny after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin.

The proposed changes would require law enforcement agencies to establish standards for neighborhood watch teams and make it mandatory for police and sheriff's departments to fully investigate cases where "stand your ground" is a factor.

Experts say these changes are a step in the right direction, but believe they may not do enough in the eyes of the public.

"The changes that they are making are very minor," Jacksonville attorney Gene Nichols said. "The issues that we have been addressing with stand your ground, it's not really going to make an tremendous difference."

On the heels of the seven to two vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, legal expert Gene Nichols believes the proposed changes to the controversial "stand your ground" law still have a long way to go.

"The chances that it will make it into the law books by the summer of next year? Very slim," Nichols said.

Senate bill 130, which was inspired by problems exposed in the George Zimmerman case, would require training guidelines for neighborhood watch groups, and ensure law enforcement agencies fully investigate any use of force, even when a self-defense claim is used.

It also clarifies that anyone who uses force against an attacker can still be responsible if they injure or kill a bystander.

"With all of the technicalities that can be drawn from this law as it stands now, it makes it difficult for law enforcement whether to make an arrest in a situation like that," Channel 4 crime and safety analyst Ken Jefferson said.

The NAACP has long fought for an outright repeal of the law.

"It's harder for black defendants to assert "stand your ground" defense if the victim is white, and easier for whites to raise the "stand your ground" defense if the victims are black," said Kim Keenan, NAACP legal counsel.

The NRA maintains that the legislation doesn't do a bit a good.

"Yes, we're lukewarm," said Marion Hammer of Unified Sportsmen of Florida. "We don't think it does a lot of good, but in its current state, we don't think it does a lot of harm, although there's potential."