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Original sponsor of Florida's Stand Your Ground law welcomes discussion on changing it

2:58 PM, Sep 4, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The state lawmaker who helped write Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law in 2005 says he's puzzled by the way the law has been used in some court cases, but he still believes it's a good law.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, spoke about the law to a Republican group in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

Several lawmakers, both Republican and Democratic, have filed bills seeking to change the law or repeal it altogether because of the way it's been used over the past eight years.

There are examples across Florida where the law has been used to protect people from prosecution, including gang members and drug dealers involved in deadly shootings, as well as people who initiated confrontations.

Rep. Baxley says there's also evidence the law is making Florida safer. He says the murder rate among 10 to 24 year olds has dropped to its lowest level in 30 years and he credits state policies.

But Baxley concedes the Stand Your Ground law is sometimes used in questionable ways in court.

"I am puzzled by some of the rulings that I see and I think it's more about application and context. We looked very much at the appropriate context, doing nothing unlawful in order to qualify for any kind of presumption about not being prosecuted and so I am puzzled by some of the rulings that have been made. I think they were more focused on just the climatic moment of interchange."

State Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has filed a bill to eliminate what he calls, "The Last Man Standing" loophole.

Smith argues violent aggressors too often are avoiding prosecution by using the Stand Your Ground provision. His legislation would not offer protection from prosecution if a person chased someone down or left a safe place to use deadly force.

All who used such force would have to prove they took reasonable steps to avoid killing someone.

And Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says he wants to tweak Stand Your Ground. Simmons, who also helped draft the original law, has filed legislation to try to make the statute clearer and establish more rules for neighborhood watch programs.

Rep. Baxley says he wants to be cautious about changing the Stand Your Ground law but he's open to having a discussion about it in the Legislature.

"I am certainly going to be cautious because when you have people advocating repeal or diminishing a valuable piece of legislation, you want to be cautious. But at the same time, I'm not going to pre-empt the discussion. Let's listen. Let's see if there are new things that we need to do to make Florida safer and better moving forward. I actually share that goal with all of my critics. I want a safer Florida."

Dave Heller

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