NRA targets GOP 'betrayers' of 'stand-your-ground' bill
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gun-rights advocates are targeting the chairman of a House committee and some of its Republican members, after a bill intended to broaden the state's controversial "stand your ground" law was scuttled.
The National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida sent an email to their members on Thursday calling the actions by House Criminal Justice Chairman Carlos Trujillo an "orchestrated" betrayal of "law-abiding gun owners," as the measure (HB 169) failed to pass in a 6-6 vote two days earlier.
Trujillo and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, joined four Democrats in opposing the measure, which proposed to shift the burden of proof to the state in cases involving the "stand your ground" law. Under the 2005 law, people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.
"It is important to recognize and remember the committee members who were loyal to the Constitution and your right of self-defense -- as well it is the betrayers," said the email from Marion Hammer, an influential lobbyist for both groups.
Trujillo, who on Tuesday said the self-defense law works as is, was not immediately available for comment Friday.
Hammer told The News Service of Florida on Friday that she was "shocked" by the vote, but declined further comment, saying her email blast -- with "Betrayal" in its subject line -- spoke for itself.
The tie vote came after Democrats were able to attach a pair of amendments to the bill that stripped some enforcement powers from the proposal.
Hammer accused Trujillo in the email of asking two Republicans to "walk" out of the room prior to the committee votes.
"Why would a chairman ask committee members to 'walk' before a vote?" Hammer said in the email. "Simple, if they were not there to vote against the bad amendments, the amendments would pass -- and they did. And, if they are not there to vote in favor of a bill, the bill will be killed. And it was."
Rep. Ray Pilon, a Sarasota Republican who was one of two panel members who missed the votes on the amendments, rejected the implication that he left to assist the Democrats or Trujillo.
"I'm being blasted over that, and it's just not fair," Pilon said Friday. "Trujillo, he asked me to walk and I said, 'No, I'm not going walk.' But I said, 'I'm going to do my bill and if I make it back, I make it back.'"
Pilon left the Criminal Justice Subcommittee while the amendments were being discussed, as a health care-related bill (HB 313) he is sponsoring was up at the same time before the Health Quality Subcommittee.
"I would have voted no on those amendments," Pilon said. "I did not walk on those amendments. The other committee was running through their bills very quickly and had I not gone when I did, my bill would not have been heard in its first committee."
Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who was absent for the votes on the amendments and the overall bill, was not immediately available for comment Friday.
The vote represented a rare defeat for the gun-rights groups, which continue to otherwise enjoy success in the Capitol.
After the panel voted Tuesday, Hammer said she is one to "never make predictions" when asked if the gun rights groups would make a target of Trujillo, a former prosecutor. However, she also said she would continue to push for the bill.
"It will be back until it passes, period," Hammer said. "In the meantime, the people can pay attention and elect people who are more sympathetic to them than prosecutors."
The House vote hasn't stopped the Senate from continuing to advance a similar measure (SB 344), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee voted 5-1 on Wednesday to advance the measure.
The bills were crafted after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that people who use the "stand your ground" defense have the burden of showing they should be shielded from prosecution. In such cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants are immune from prosecution under the law. The bill calls for placing the burden of proof on prosecutors in the evidentiary hearings.
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