Task Force Meets to Look at Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law



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By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) — A task force created by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to examine the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting meets for the first time Tuesday.

Seventeen people will tackle the issue of whether the controversial law should be changed in light of the death of the unarmed teenager.

The task force, whose membership was announced last month, will take testimony at public meetings across the state. The first session will be held in the state capital, Tallahassee.

“We’re not walking into this with any preconceived notions,” Gov. Rick Scott said at an April 19 news conference. If there are “logical changes to be made,” he said, the task force “will provide those.”

Recommendations from the group will be passed along to the governor and the Legislature.

The group will review Florida Statute Chapter 776, which deals with justifiable use of force, including the stand your ground provision.

The law allows people to use deadly force when they feel a reasonable threat of death or serious injury. Critics and defenders of the law have argued over just what it allows, when it applies and whether it achieves its intended effect.

George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer, fatally shot Martin on February 26. He was arrested April 11 after a lengthy delay punctuated by protests and rallies nationwide calling for charges against him.

Critics accuse Zimmerman of racially profiling and unjustly killing Martin, a 17-year-old African-American. Zimmerman, who is Latino, told police he shot Martin in self-defense, according to police reports.

Although details of the shooting remain murky, it is known that Martin ventured out from the Sanford, Florida, home of his father’s fiancee and went to a nearby convenience store, where he bought a bag of candy and an iced tea. On his way back, he had a confrontation with Zimmerman, who shot him.

Zimmerman was released last week on $150,000 bail, 10% of which was put up to secure his release while he awaits trial on a second-degree murder charge in Martin’s death.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who is leading the Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection, said the group is “highly qualified” and includes people from “many different points of view” who are “racially, regionally and professionally diverse.”

The task force includes a retired judge, attorneys experienced in both prosecution and defense and members of neighborhood watch programs. Two state representatives are on the task force, one of them the author of the stand your ground bill in the House, Carroll said. The list of 17 members also shows two state senators.

There are no representatives from the National Rifle Association on the task force, Carroll said in response to a question. But the task force will hear from people on various sides of the issue at public events throughout the state.

She said the government did not reach out to people to join the task force, but rather considered people who had contacted officials and said they wanted to be a part of it.

“We’re going to engage the entire state of Florida to tell us the pros and cons, how they feel about these laws,” said the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., who is serving as vice chairman.

Florida’s crime rate is at a 40-year low, and “I want to keep it that way,” Scott said. “If there’s laws that are impacting that, where people don’t feel comfortable, I want to know about it.”

The list of 17 task force members includes a sheriff, a former Florida Supreme Court justice and a leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Both Carroll and Holmes are African-American.

Questions of whether race played a role in the incident have been prominent in the uproar over the case.

Officials hope the task force will complete its work by the time of the state’s next legislative session, so changes could be made then, she said.

A member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Michael Yaki of San Francisco, said last week he will ask that agency to investigate such laws.

CNN’s Kelly Frank and Matt Smith contributed to this report.

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