Against the backdrop of this month’s anniversaries of the shooting deaths of Treyvon Martin and 17 people at Marjory Stoneman High School, heightened concern about white supremacist hate groups, National Gun Violence Survivors Week and Black History Month, a bill was filed Thursday seeking to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
The bill — SB 1052, known as the Self-Defense Restoration Act — was filed by state Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park. It was the second time Jones has filed the bill — which failed in 2019 without a single committee hearing and which Jones said he knows is an uphill fight this year.
“We know for a fact that Stand Your Ground promotes vigilantism, it allows people to shoot first and ask questions later,” Jones said during a press conference Thursday. “More important, it puts black people and other people of color at a greater risk of gun violence.”
Where ‘Stand Your Ground’ began
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was passed in 2005 and allows legal protection for those who feel a reasonable threat of death or bodily injury to “meet force with force” rather than retreat.
The law gained notoriety after the Feb. 26, 2012, shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic neighborhood watch captain.
Martin, wearing a hoodie sweatshirt, was walking home after buying snacks at a nearby 7-Eleven. Zimmerman called 911 and reported a “real suspicious guy.” Zimmerman disregarded instructions to stay in his car, and a scuffle ensued. Zimmerman shot Martin once in the chest, and the teen died at the scene.
Zimmerman, who had a bloody nose and head wound, claimed self-defense. He was charged with second-degree murder but was acquitted using a Stand Your Ground law defense.
Is there a connection?
In announcing his bill at a press conference on Thursday, Jones, who is Black, cited the findings of studies on the Everytown USA website that found Stand Your Ground laws are associated with an increase in homicide rates that translate to more than 150 additional gun deaths each month in the U.S. overall.
In addition, an Everytown USA study found that in states with Stand Your Ground laws, homicides in which white shooters kill Black victims are deemed justifiable five times more frequently than when the situation is reversed, Jones said.
Jones was joined by state Rep. Michele Rayer, D-Clearwater, a civil rights attorney known for taking on cases dealing with race and social justice issues. In 2018, she advocated for the family of Markeis McGlockton, a 28-year-old unarmed Black man who was shot and killed in a Clearwater convenience store parking lot by Michael Drejka, a white man.
Drejka said he was acting in self-defense under the Stand Your Ground law. A jury found Drejka guilty of manslaughter.
“We know this to be a fact — people of color, specifically Black people, are far more likely to be effected as victims of Stand Your Ground,” Rayner said. “Their killers are not prosecuted or their deaths are ruled justifiable or where, if the roles are reversed and a Black person were to shoot a white person, Stand Your Ground would not be applied in the same way.”
Another factor cited Thursday is the presence of hate groups in the state.
A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that of the 14 statewide hate groups in Florida, five were either white nationalist or Ku Klux Klan groups.
Jones’ bill also received support Thursday from Moms Demand Action, a nationwide group affiliated with Everytown USA, the nation’s largest gun violence prevention group largely financed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
“Not only is Stand Your Ground dangerous, it’s unnecessary,” said Chryl Anderson, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. Florida’s traditional self-defense laws were sufficient and already allowed people to protect themselves, Anderson added.
Anderson, too, called the law racist.
“When white shooters kill a Black victim in Stand Your Ground states, the resulting shootings are seen as justifiable five times more frequently than when the victim is white and shooter Black,” Anderson added.
Despite the support from fellow lawmakers and the country’s foremost gun safety group, Jones said he has little hope that the bill will pass.
Unlike in Washington, D .C., where there is optimism that federal gun safety bills might pass with a new president committed to gun control and Democrats holding gavels in both the House and Senate, Jones is pessimistic about the chances for his bill in Tallahassee.
“The Florida Legislature has never had a stomach for gun legislation,” said Jones, adding that it is not just that bills are not passed, in many cases they are not even assigned to committees for review.
“There is no optimism that they will have this conversation,” Jones said. “In D.C. — I’m happy they’re having this conversation, but in Florida we’re just going to have to continue making noise and let them know that we won’t shut up until these bills are heard.”