Sybrina Fulton of Miami, Fla., mother of Trayvon Martin, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on 'Stand Your Ground' laws October 29, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on ''Stand Your Ground' Laws: Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force.' (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(NBC NEWS) -- Two Florida mothers whose unarmed sons were shot to death gave
emotional testimony Tuesday at a Senate panel, demanding that states
alter their "stand your ground" laws.
Sybrina Fulton described how
the family had just celebrated her son Trayvon Martin's 17th birthday
three weeks before he was killed in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated
community in Sanford, Fla.
"He was simply going to get a drink and
some candy. That tells me right there, his mentality. That tells me
that he was not going to get cigarettes or bullets or condoms or other
items of that nature," she told a packed Senate Judiciary Committee
hearing. "Trayvon was minding his own business."
"So I just wanted to come here to talk to you for a moment to let you
know how important it is that we amend this stand-your-ground because
it did not work in my case. The person that shot and killed my son is
walking the streets today, and this law does not work. We need to
seriously take a look at this law," she said.
laws are on the books in at least 22 states and change the legal
definition of self-defense for citizens who feel they are being
confronted with deadly force or imminent danger, canceling their duty to
retreat. But Fulton argued at the hearing that the Feb. 26, 2012,
shooting of her son and the acquittal of George Zimmerman over the
summer shows that the laws are confusing.
Also testifying was
Lucia Holman McBath, who wore a pin with a photo of her only
child, Jordan Russell Davis, affixed to her chest.
Davis, 17, was killed nearly a year ago when Michael David Dunn, 46,
allegedly fired nine rounds on a Dodge Durango with four teenagers
inside in Jacksonville, Fla., after complaining about their loud music
and claiming he saw a gun. Authorities never found a gun inside.
struggling to hold back tears at one point, told the committee that
Dunn sprayed the vehicle with bullets, then went back to his hotel and
ordered a pizza. She said he wasn't arrested until the following
"That man was empowered by the 'stand your ground'
statute," McBath said. "I am here to tell you there was no ground to
stand. There was no threat. No one was trying to invade his home, his
vehicle, nor threatened him or his family."
Dunn's trial has been
delayed until next year, but McBath said she faces the "very real
possibility that my son's killer will walk free, hiding behind a statute
that lets people claim a threat where there was none."
Wild West had more stringent laws governing the taking of life than we
have now. Stand-your-ground defies all reason. It goes against the sound
system of justice established long ago on this very hill," she said.
described her son to the committee: "I can tell you all about him. His
easy smile, his first girlfriend, and his plans to join the Marines."
you can never really know my boy because an angry man who owned a gun
kept it close at hand and chose to demonstrate unbridled hatred one
balmy evening for reasons I will never understand," she said.
Florida had the first stand-your-ground law, passed in 2005.
and Jordan didn't ask to be martyrs. The American legal system made
them martyrs," Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, said at the hearing.
"Stand-your-ground laws eliminate all responsibility to retreat and
peacefully end an incident."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., led the
inquiry, calling two panels of witnesses to the hearing room on Tuesday
to discuss the issue. The Senate is holding the hearing even though no
congressional action is expected on the state policies, according to the
In opening the hearing on Tuesday, Durbin said, "It is clearly time for stand-your-ground to be carefully reviewed."
stand-your-ground laws have led to increases in homicides and firearms
injuries," he said. "These stand-your-ground laws have allowed shooters
to walk free in shocking situations."
On the other side of the
discussion was Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who questioned what role federal
government had in interfering with a state issue.
"Self-defense is a bedrock liberty of every American, and I would
note this is not a new concept," he said, citing the Second Amendment.
your ground laws are sometimes referred to as "Shoot First" laws by
detractors. They were part of the public discussion around the Zimmerman
trial; although the legal team arguing on behalf of Zimmerman did not
ask for an immunity hearing under the law, the instructions given to the
jury borrowed language from the statute.
Normally, a citizen has a
duty to retreat when confronted with what they perceive to be deadly
force. The stand your ground doctrine mostly removes that, meaning
citizens who feel threatened are no longer required to try to quell a
situation first before having the right to use deadly force in
Gun rights groups, like the National Rifle
Association, argue stand your ground laws are about protecting the right
Also testifying at the hearing was Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, a strong supporter of stand your ground laws.
pointed out to Durbin and others in the hearing that murder rates are
higher in Chicago and Washington, D.C., than they are in states that
have stand-your-ground laws.
"[The] idea of being able to stand
one's ground without first retreating has been combined as part of the
law of self-defense in at least 22 states. It might also be noted that
these 22 are not necessarily states in which runaway murder rates
abound," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
By Elizabeth Chuck, Staff Writer, NBC News