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How the NRA and Its Allies Helped Spread a Radical Gun Law Nationwide

Years before Trayvon Martin was killed, gun lobbyists conspired to give Stand Your Ground shooters immunity everywhere.

| Thu Jun. 7, 2012 5:10 AM EDT

Back when Florida passed Stand Your Ground, a few legislators did raise concerns. "This could be two gangs, deciding to have a fight in the street in Miami," said then-Rep. Jack Seiler, a Democrat from South Florida. "They both have a right to be standing on Biscayne Boulevard." It was a prescient warning. In 2006, a Miami man avoided prosecution after spraying a car filled with gang members with 14 bullets. In 2008, a 15-year-old Tallahassee boy was killed in a shoot-out between rival gangs; two of the gang members successfully took refuge behind Stand Your Ground.

In April, ALEC disbanded the panel that pushed Stand Your Ground and redirected funds to "task forces that focus on the economy."

The cumulative effect of those cases has been staggering: Two years after Stand Your Ground passed in Florida, the number of "justifiable homicides" by civilians more than doubled, and it nearly tripled by 2011. FBI statistics show a similar national trend: Justifiable homicides doubled in states with Florida-style laws, while they remained flat or fell in states that lacked them. (Update, 6/11/12: A new study from Texas A&M University shows that SYG laws result in no crime deterrence—while adding 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the 25 states with the laws.) Jansen also notes that research has shown that, when it came to domestic-abuse cases, "the only thing Stand Your Ground did was blur the lines between who was the batterer and who was the victim."

He says the laws have been passed without legislators asking basic questions: What, exactly, makes a fear of imminent harm reasonable? Do the laws have a disparate negative effect on minorities or juveniles? And, perhaps the simplest question: "Is it worth losing a life over a car radio?"

That's happened, too. In Miami, a man was granted immunity in March for chasing down a burglar and stabbing him after the thief swung a bag of stolen car radios at him. He "was well within his rights to pursue the victim and demand the return of his property," the judge ruled. A state attorney for Miami-Dade County disagreed: "She, in effect, is saying that it's appropriate to chase someone down with a knife to get property back."

For now, Florida has deemed that it is indeed appropriate, and polls taken after the Martin killing show that half of voters agree. But outrage over that case (as well as ALEC's push for voter ID laws; see page 30) has cost ALEC prime corporate sponsors—including McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, and Procter & Gamble—and its tax-exempt status has been challenged by Common Cause. In April, ALEC disbanded the panel that pushed Stand Your Ground and redirected funds to "task forces that focus on the economy."

But Hammer and her allies are still pressing for laxer gun laws. This spring, Hammer got Florida to drop the cost of gun permits and lower the age restriction to 17 for military members, and she's still fighting to allow residents to carry their guns openly. And the NRA is pumping millions into the November elections nationally. "America needs us now more than ever as we gather together as one in the most dangerous times in American history," LaPierre told the NRA's annual convention in St. Louis in April. "By the time I finish this speech, two Americans will be slain, six women will be raped, 27 of us will be robbed, and 50 more will be beaten. That is the harsh reality we face every day." With an unabashed reference to the shooting that brought Stand Your Ground to national attention, LaPierre drove home his point. "But the media, they don't care. Everyday victims aren't celebrities. They don't draw ratings and sponsors, but sensational reporting from Florida does."

Safety Off

Since 2005, Florida lawmakers have taken aim at gun control with a barrage of deregulation measures:

  • Requiring employers to let employees keep guns in their cars while at work
  • Requiring city and county governments to allow guns in public buildings and parks
  • Lifting a long-standing ban on guns in national forests and state parks
  • Allowing military personnel as young as 17 to get concealed-weapons licenses. (Age limit remains 21 for everyone else.)
  • Withholding the names of concealed-carry licensees in public records
  • Permitting concealed-carry licensees "to briefly and openly display the firearm to the ordinary sight of another person." (The original bill would have allowed guns on college campuses, but it was amended after a GOP lawmaker's friend's daughter was accidentally killed with an AK-47 at a frat party.)
  • Prohibiting doctors from asking patients if they keep guns or ammo in the house unless it's "relevant" to their care or safety. (Overturned by a federal judge.)
  • Allowing legislators, school board members, and county commissioners to carry concealed weapons at official meetings. (Didn't pass; another bill to let judges pack heat "at any time and in any place" died in 2009.)
  • Designating a day for tax-free gun purchases. (Didn't pass.)
  • Exempting guns manufactured in Florida from any federal regulations. (Didn't pass.)

For more, take a closer look at the money trail behind Florida's Stand Your Ground law, read about how the NRA pushed for the right to pack heat anywhere, and explore our comprehensive explainer on the Trayvon Martin killing. Also be sure to check out the Tampa Bay Times' eye-opening investigation of nearly 200 Stand Your Ground cases in Florida.

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