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Editorials

Weatherford: 'Stand Your Ground' questions should be answered


Published:   |   Updated: August 2, 2013 at 07:58 AM

A core value we share as Americans is our right to safety. The need to walk our streets free from danger and harm is as basic as the need for clean air, shelter and food. For the past 15 years, there has been a purposeful effort to make Florida streets more secure by advancing strong public safety laws. Our determination has been effective. Since 2000, violent crime has declined by more than 30 percent, benefiting Floridians of all races. Florida has seen one of the steepest drops in violent crime rates compared to other states over the same time frame.

One of the laws passed during that time period is commonly known as "Stand Your Ground." I was not in the Florida Legislature when the bill became law with bipartisan support, but as the current speaker of the House, I have been asked to repeal it. "Asked" is a generous term considering the threats of boycotts, union-sponsored protesters overtaking the governor's office and Hollywood elites disparaging our state and threatening the livelihood of hard-working Floridians.

The origins of these complaints are indeed grievous. A 17-year old Floridian was killed. As a father of three beautiful children, I cannot imagine the pain that Trayvon Martin's parents, family and friends are experiencing at their sudden loss. A common reaction is to search for answers and assign blame, yet I believe the focus of some has been misplaced on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.

The fact is, George Zimmerman's attorneys did not use "Stand Your Ground" in his defense, a detail that protesters and critics have incorrectly ignored. Nevertheless, in the wake of the Zimmerman case, "Stand Your Ground" has been challenged.

So what is the responsibility of Florida's lawmakers in the wake of the Zimmerman trial and the criticisms? First, we must listen. Across Florida, representatives are receiving calls, letters, visits and emails from constituents with diverse opinions on "Stand Your Ground." Stories are varied and passions are high, but every person has the right to express their views on this matter of great importance.

Second, we must look at the facts. I have asked the chair of our Criminal Justice Subcommittee to hold a hearing this fall on "Stand Your Ground." Our evaluation of its effectiveness should be guided by objective information, not by political expediency. Does the law keep the innocent safer? Is it being applied fairly? Are there ways we can make this law clearer and more understandable?

These are appropriate questions that should be asked and answered.

Demands for a special session to repeal the law disregard the very foundation of our representative democracy by presuming that a law passed by the majority of a constitutional body should be reversed by the objections of a few.

Finally, it is critical that Florida not retreat from our effort to protect our citizens and ensure they can defend themselves when attacked. History shows that strong self-defense laws are important to protect the interests of minorities and victims of domestic violence. In the context of the demographics of our population, "Stand Your Ground" has been used by a greater percentage of minorities in Florida.

Although it is appropriate to review our laws, we will not back down a single inch from our citizens' ability to protect themselves. Our firm resolve must be accompanied with listening ears and open hearts. By doing so, we will ensure that our state is the safe and secure place that we expect for our families and ourselves.

Will Weatherford is a Republican from Wesley Chapel and speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

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