St Augustine Senator, John Thrasher, told his legislative cohorts yesterday that he does not go along with proposed changes to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law; enacted to protect the lives of citizens by recognizing their legal right to use deadly force, if necessary, to defend themselves, or other persons, from great bodily harm or death.
In a compromise hailed as “rare bipartisan cooperation” by State Senator David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, and Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard arguments and negotiated points contained in the 2005 statute, pro and con; then took the first step toward clarifying the much-debated Florida law.
A potentially difficult civil liability provision that allows innocent bystanders or other third parties to sue someone over injury or death caused by a self-defense action, also invoked a raised eyebrow from Thrasher.
“In a situation when an individual is trying to defend himself, we’re putting them in jeopardy if they try,” said Thrasher, who voted against the proposal. Simmons and Smith said they were not trying to intimidate a crime victim from self-defense, for fear of hitting a bystander. They said, however, no one should be immune from civil liability if they recklessly blast away and hit someone aside from their assailants.
Both Simmons and Smith said the existing Stand Your Ground law grants immunity not only from criminal prosecution, but also from civil liability; for law-abiding citizens who use a weapon in self-defense, rather than retreating from a potentially deadly situation.
The merged proposal (SB 122 and SB 130) would require police agencies to put out guidelines to neighborhood watch groups telling participants to observe and report crimes — not to pursue or interfere with a suspicious person, except to protect themselves or others from immediate harm. Anyone who provokes a violent confrontation may not hide behind the stand your ground defense.
Kim Keenan, general counsel of the NAACP, commented that this is about creating a world that isn’t the wild, wild west, saying that her organization opposes stand your ground; believing the statutes in most states have a racially disparate application. But, she said, the Smith-Simmons compromise that evolved during the two-hour hearing is “a step in the right direction.”
The merged Senate bill now goes to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee for further hearings.