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'Stand your ground' self-defense gun law draws protests — and governor advises new look at it

Trayvon Martin
Trayvon Martin
George Zimmerman
George Zimmerman

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Claudette Hutchinson, of Sanford, adds to a makeshift memorial for slain teenager Trayvon Martin that continues to grow daily, Tuesday, March 20, 2012, outside the Retreat at Twin Lakes where Trayvon was shot and killed by neighborhood watch person George Zimmerman.
Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel
Claudette Hutchinson, of Sanford, adds to a makeshift memorial for slain teenager Trayvon Martin that continues to grow daily, Tuesday, March 20, 2012, outside the Retreat at Twin Lakes where Trayvon was shot and killed by neighborhood watch person George Zimmerman.
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Last year, a judge dismissed two first-degree murder charges against Michael Monahan, who shot Raymond Mohlman and Matthew Vittum to death during a dispute aboard a sailboat.

But in 2010, a Naples judge refused to allow a suspect in the shooting death of a high school student to gain immunity under the law. James Menard was convicted of the murder of 17-year-old Jake Couture in that case.

Martin was the latest unarmed victim whose assailant has used the law as a defense, prompting the lawyers who marched to Scott's office to demand scrutiny of the law. "These problems are racial profiling, the abuse of police discretion and the abuse of prosecutorial discretion. Trayvon Martin is dead because of racial profiling," attorney Mutaquee Akbar told Scott, reading from a prepared letter.

"Death is the ultimate and most final result of a problem that has plagued our community for centuries. It can no longer be ignored," Akbar said. "George Zimmerman is walking free today because of this abuse."

Scott replied: "I'll do everything I can to make sure justice prevails."

But one of the sponsors of the 2005 measure defended the law, citing reports that Zimmerman ignored the advice of a 911 operator who told Zimmerman to stay away from Martin.

"Invariably when there's any adverse incident, it's open season for anti-gun factions to disseminate this idea that there's something wrong with 'stand your ground,'" said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the measure. "There's nothing in 'stand your ground' that authorizes anyone to pursue and confront an individual. That's the problem in this case. Let them do a bill about that."

The racial tension surrounding the Sanford shooting should not take away from the positive results the law has had by allowing potential victims to protect themselves, Baxley said. "It has stopped a lot of victimization from occurring. And that's what I get thanked for every week almost from someone. I think it defends those people. It defends everyone. If they're under violent attack they have the authority to stop that," he said.

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, who pushed for the law, agreed. She said the call for action is premature, because the law allows an arrest to take place after an investigation.

"So for law enforcement to rush to judgment just because they are being stampeded by emotionalism would be a violation of law," she said. "This law is not about one incident. It's about protecting the right of law-abiding people to protect themselves when they are attacked. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the law. And if the governor wants to waste time looking at it he can knock himself out."

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