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Joe Henderson

Henderson: Don’t expect ‘stand your ground’ overhaul

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Published:   |   Updated: August 6, 2013 at 06:54 AM

It’s good that Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford is asking for a hearing on the “stand your ground” law, I guess. Legislators ought to talk about these things, if only to show they have self-awareness about the outside threats of boycotts and such against our state because of this law.

That’s probably as far as it will go, though. This is the law we have, and the chances of this particular group of legislators making serious changes to it are roughly the same as Alex Rodriguez winning a Man of the Year award.

If the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee actually gets around to reviewing the law this fall, it will be one of the most highly covered events in recent times where absolutely nothing happens. Committee Chairman Matt Gaetz shot from the hip, so to speak, when he told the Tribune’s William March, “I don’t expect that the Legislature’s going to move one damn comma.”

Presumably, that would include the charge to the jury deciding George Zimmerman’s fate last month at his murder trial in Sanford. Although Zimmerman’s attorneys did not use “stand your ground” as a defense, the judge referenced it when instructing the jury. Whether they believed Zimmerman was justified in shooting Trayvon Martin or was crazier than a loon, they had to decide the case in part on a law that left them few options.

Jurors were told the danger facing Zimmerman didn’t have to be actual, so long as the “appearance” of it was there. He also had to believe the only way out for a “reasonable and cautious person under the same circumstances” was to use deadly force.

The law appears to presume every person makes rational split-second decisions and is cool under pressure when confronted with unexpected situations, real or imagined. Well, that’s the loophole. This law legalizes paranoia as a defense.

It should be noted that jurors didn’t have to make that judgment in the case of Trevor Dooley, who claimed he was afraid for his life in 2010 when he shot and killed David James in an argument at a Valrico park. A judge rejected that defense before the trial began, and a jury later convicted Dooley of manslaughter.

Even its strongest supporters say the law was not designed as a license to shoot that menacing-looking stranger because you think it’s possible he might harm you, but how can anyone know beyond a reasonable doubt a defendant wasn’t scared for his life?

One of the jurors in the Zimmerman trial, you remember, said she believed he got away with murder. Because the law requires them to become amateur psychologists though, their only choice was to find him not guilty.

If the Legislature is going to seriously talk about this law, that’s where it needs to start.

Guns are a fact of life in Florida and they aren’t going away. Regardless of which side of this debate you are on, citizens have a right to protect themselves and that is inevitably going to include guns.

If we’re going to keep the “stand your ground” law, though, and we probably are, lawmakers need to honestly address its flaws. They need to see if there is a way to make it better.

In this climate, though, I’m guessing Gaetz was on target. They won’t move one damn comma.

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