Protesters at Florida's Capitol, and allies around the state, have been demanding that Gov. Rick Scott call a special legislative session on the state's controversial "stand your ground" law, following last month's not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.
There are several problems with the demand — not the least of which is that Scott already has said he has no problem with the law and is not going to call a special session.
Even if he relented, a special session would be a show with lots of oratory and virtually no action. It would be a political opportunity for Scott to show he listened to those who believe the law lets people get away with murder because it removes the duty to try to retreat before using lethal force. Indeed, the Tampa Bay Times last year reviewed 200 "stand your ground" cases and found that in a third, the defendant started the fight and went free.
Leaders of the Legislature's Republican majority have expressed little interest in assembling in Tallahassee just to take up and scrap or overhaul the law. In the absence of a special session, there is a better option for those who want to change the law: Support the proposal by Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat and leader of his party in the state Senate.
Smith's proposal is similar to one he brought up last session. Among other things, it would:
•Remove the automatic immunity from immediate arrest if you are the aggressor and claim a "stand your ground" defense.
•Require law enforcement to issue guidelines prohibiting Neighborhood Watch participants from pursuing and confronting suspects.
•More clearly spell out the role of the aggressor and remove ambiguity from the current law.
Last session, Smith's bill wasn't even heard. But that was before the Zimmerman trial, before the controversial verdict, and before the nation's scorn rained down on Florida.
While Zimmerman did not claim "stand your ground" as a defense in his trial, the law delayed his arrest and influenced the instructions to the jury in his favor. It may also protect him from civil suits.
Smith believes his proposal has a better chance of getting through the committee process. The first chance comes in late September, when committees begin meeting to discuss bills for next year's session.
Again, the chance for a special session that would bring about meaningful improvements in "stand your ground" is almost nil. For critics of the law, the more practical strategy is to keep the pressure on the governor and lawmakers to support Smith's proposals to reform "stand your ground" when the Legislature meets in regular session.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun