TALLAHASSEE, Florida — A panel of Florida legislators on Thursday easily defeated an effort to repeal the state's controversial "stand your ground law" Thursday following hours of passionate testimony.
The vote by a committee of the Republican-controlled House, which seemed unlikely just a few months ago, comes after the trial of George Zimmerman renewed scrutiny of the self-defense law that was first passed in 2005.
Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin after claiming self-defense. While "stand your ground" was not directly mentioned in the trial, the law was included in the jury instructions and sparked a monthlong protest this summer at the Florida Capitol. The case sparked accusations that Zimmerman had racially profiled Martin.
State Rep. Alan Williams, the sponsor of the measure, gave an impassioned plea to legislators that they consider the repeal by citing Martin's death.
"Let's repair the divide, whether it's seen or unseen, that this law appears to have given our communities around the state," said Williams, a Democrat from Tallahassee.
But the House committee considering the bill voted decisively 11-2 against the measure. One of the strongest voices in support of retaining the law came from Rep. Matt Gaetz, who argued that the law had helped reduce the number of homicides in the state since its passage.
A handful of Democrats also voted against the bill, saying they were uncomfortable with the legislation because it also removed a separate provision from the 2005 law that codified court rulings that stated a person has a right to use deadly force against an intruder in their own home.
Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, said that went too far. But he urged his colleagues to at least consider some reforms to the "stand your ground" in the months to come. The Florida Senate currently has a bill that would tweak the existing law.
"How can an unarmed citizen defend themselves against an armed lunatic with a delusional sense of danger?" Slosberg said. "Stand your ground creates a mentality of destruction and fear while reinforcing a society of violence and aggression."
In the immediate aftermath of Zimmerman's arrest, the GOP-controlled Legislature resisted taking any action to change the law that was pushed by the National Rifle Association.
But House Speaker Will Weatherford agreed earlier this year to hold a hearing on "stand your ground" after protesters spent several weeks at the Capitol calling for the repeal of the measure.
The vote Thursday came after several hours of public testimony that included the parents of a Jacksonville teenager who was killed late last year following an argument over loud music. The man accused of the crime has pleaded not guilty and said he was threatened.
"Florida has become the poster child of senseless gun violence," Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, told legislators.
Marion Hammer, the long-time voice of the NRA in Tallahassee, said the "stand your ground" law was intended to allow people to defend themselves instead of being forced to retreat when confronted with an attacker.
"A duty to retreat signals the justice system places more value on the life of a criminal than the life of a victim," Hammer said.
While the House Criminal Justice subcommittee voted against the "stand your ground" repeal it voted in favor of a different measure that could allow people who fire warning shots to avoid being charged under Florida's "10-20-Life" mandatory sentencing law.
The legislation was pushed in the wake of the 20 year sentence given to a Florida woman who fired a shot at her estranged husband during an argument.
Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fineout