Carroll defends makeup of 'Stand Your Ground' panel


Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 8:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 8:20 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll on Tuesday defended the makeup of the panel that Gov. Rick Scott appointed to look into Florida's self-defense laws in the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

"It is a mischaracterization for anyone to presume this task force is not balanced," said Carroll, who is leading Scott's Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection.

Carroll's comments came as the 19-member panel met for the first time in an organizational session, setting the stage for a series of meetings over the next year to examine Florida's "stand your ground" law and other citizen safety laws.

It follows the shooting of Martin, a teenager in Sanford. George Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder in the case.

The governor's panel will present its findings before the 2013 legislative session next March.

Critics had charged that the panel was tilted in favor of defending the law since two lawmakers who helped write the 2005 law are on the task force: state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and state Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland. Carroll, who was then in the Legislature, also supported the law.

Baxley said the task force's focus should not be solely on the "stand your ground" law, which is part of the Florida statutes, Chapter 776.

"Let's don't let this turn into a trial of 776," he said.

Baxley said it was "premature" to assume the law needed to be overhauled. He said over the next months, the task force will look at how the law is being used.

But he also said the group should broaden its focus, noting the governor had created a task force that was going to examine "citizen safety and protection."

Baxley suggested the task force could look at other issues, including the role of local crime watch groups. He said that while the groups have been "largely a success," he is willing to look at issues such as setting guidelines for the watch groups.

As the Florida task force began meeting, the National Rifle Association, a gun rights group, issued a statement to its members, urging the advocates to oppose any effort to weaken the law.

The NRA said it would not support a requirement that citizens try to "retreat" before invoking their right to defend themselves, even with deadly force.

"The alternative leaves the innocent in danger," the NRA said. "The vast majority of states do not impose a ‘duty to retreat,' and most Americans support laws that clarify that common law, common-sense right. It empowers lawful people to defend themselves and deters would-be murderers, rapists and robbers."

Carroll, who is a life member of the NRA, said the task force would take a thorough look and collect data on how the self-defense laws are being used at all levels, including the judiciary, law enforcement and citizens.

The goal will be to "come forward with a better fix than what we have now, if there is truly a concern and an issue out there," she said.

State Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, who created his own task force and has come forward with recommendations for limiting the "stand your ground" law, said the law needs to be changed as soon as possible.

"We have an imperfect law," said Smith, who will present his findings at the next meeting of Carroll's panel, which is expected to be held in Sanford, the site of the Martin shooting.

"We need to review that imperfect law and make it better," Smith said.

As for the makeup of the governor's task force, Smith said there appears to be "a lot" of members who seem to support keeping the law intact. But after Tuesday's discussion, Smith said there are enough independent members to have a fair debate.

"That makes me a little calmer," he said.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top