State lawmakers won't fix Stand Your Ground, so let the voters do it by the ballot initiative

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Dear Sen. Chris L. Smith:

It was a long shot at best. Your attempt to tweak Florida's infamous Stand Your Ground law had about as much chance in the Florida Legislature as expanding Medicaid, imposing new taxes or paying teachers their true worth.

As gun-safety bills go, SB 136 seemed reasonable. It would remove the presumption of immunity for people who respond to a threat with deadly force, and clarifies that law enforcement can question and detain a shooter who invokes the "Stand your Ground" defense. Florida Department of Law Enforcement also would have to collect data on those cases, something that state agency doesn't do now.

You did your homework, convening experts in academia and the criminal justice system to better understand the problems the law created for police, prosecutors and judges.

Your panel made recommendations, far exceeding the farce of a commission the governor appointed to examine Stand Your Ground following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, which brought a harsh national spotlight on the Florida law.

Yet, in Tallahassee many of your colleagues saw the bill as Second Amendment sacrilege. You filed it in December, and for what? "I don't think [they] get past the first committee," Senate President Don Gaetz said, signalling the fate of your bill and another by state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, that would have repealed the law outright. Gaetz's blunt assessment came almost a week before the start of the legislative session.

Instead, state lawmakers seem content with more gun use, not less. Take HB 1097, legislation that would authorize public school principals to designate employees to carry concealed weapons or firearms in the schools. School boards oppose it, but the bill did get a vote, yours didn't.

Your efforts may be "DOA" in the Florida Legislature, but that doesn't mean the lingering concerns over the law should expire. The controversial gun law still needs tweaking, and you and your allies have a way to do it — the ballot initiative.

2014 might work, but that's a mid-term election, which tends to bring out the crowd that feels the law is okay as is. A bigger turnout, and the better chance for success, will take place during the next presidential election in 2016.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Ballot initiatives take money and collecting signatures isn't cheap. But, you've been minority leader in both chambers of the Legislature. So, you should know how to find and convince supporters to contribute to a cause.

Besides, there's Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York and a self-made billionaire who has made eradicating gun violence a priority. You're golden if you can make the case that the initiative has a good chance of passage and will change what is arguably the most gun-friendly state in the nation.

It's not like this hasn't been done before. Your one-time colleague, Kendrick Meek, became fed up with the legislative process after seeing bill after bill to improve Florida's public schools shot down by Republicans who favored using taxpayers' money to support school vouchers and private schools. So, he went to the people, and asked if they were tired of lecture-hall sized classrooms in elementary, middle and high schools. Turns out they were.

The support is there. A Quinnipiac University poll this week showed 51 percent of Floridians suporter stricter statewide gun-control laws. The same poll found 53 percent favor a ban on the sale of high capacity magazines and 56 percent want similar restrictions against the sale of assault weapons. How hard would it be to get the voters to say its okay for law enforcement to gather information about Stand Your Ground claims?

Your bill might be on the wrong end of the legislative majority, but a ballot initiative would put it on the right side of history. Stand Your Ground is a flawed law, but don't hold your breath waiting for the fix to come from Tallahassee.

The voters are willing. Leadership is what's needed and who better than you?

Sincerely,

A Concerned Columnist

Douglas C. Lyons can be reached at dlyons@sun-sentinel.com, or 954-356-4638. On Twitter @douginflorida.

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