State Rep. Watson working to repeal or amend ‘stand your ground' law

State Rep. Clovis Watson Jr. speaks during a march and rally in support of Trayvon Martin organized by the Dream Defenders on Saturday, July 20, 2013 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey / Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 10:57 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 4:34 p.m.

State Rep. Clovis Watson Jr. says he has disliked Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law since its enactment in 2005, but 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's death in February 2012 and George Zimmerman's recent acquittal have engendered mass calls for its repeal.

Watson, D-Alachua, said he plans to try to honor those requests. He and his staff already are doing preliminary work on a repealment measure that would be introduced in the Florida Legislature's spring 2014 session.

He said he expects to be involved in the legislation as either a sponsor or prime co-sponsor, knowing he isn't the only legislator interested in taking the law off the books.

"I believe in self-defense," he said. "I will defend myself and my family in clear, imminent danger, but the ‘stand your ground' law just takes it a step further."

Watson, who worked in law enforcement for more than 20 years, said the law creates an opportunity for violence for people who aren't trained in handling volatile situations.

A citizen might perceive someone who is in distress or suffers from mental illness as threatening when the person actually means no harm, Watson said. The legal protection afforded by the "stand your ground" law could lead someone to take a violent course of action when he or she might otherwise retreat, he said.

"If you didn't have this protection of the law, it would give you more reason to pause," he said.

Watson emphasized that this is not, as some have suggested, a gun rights issue.

"I do not think this law is about gun ownership and gun rights, which I've heard people speak of. You can stand your ground and take a life with a hatchet, with an ax, with a machete," he said.

Katheryn Russell-Brown, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, said the Zimmerman case has evoked fear in the community, particularly among blacks.

High-profile criminal cases like Zimmerman's are often used to give the public a temperature reading about race relations in the U.S.

"It's not just about the facts of the Zimmerman case. It's like, what is the message? We look to the laws (and) we look to these cases to give us a sign," she said. "So if the message is ‘That's OK,' that's a scary message for a lot of people."

Repealing, or at least amending, the "stand your ground" law would partially allay those fears, but she cautioned that concerns about racial profiling and related issues would still need to be addressed.

"If that can happen to him (Martin), then it can happen to other people as well, across race, so this fear isn't just limited to the African-American community," she said.

Watson agrees that repealing the "stand your ground" law will not address all of the fears evoked by the Zimmerman case, but he thinks it will help.

"I certainly think it will make a large segment of the population comfortable knowing that there are laws in place to protect them from someone being trigger-happy, if you will, or from someone who may act in haste with knowing they have the protection of the ‘stand your ground' law," he said.

While he said he would prefer to repeal the law altogether, he is open to collaborating with other legislators on amending it if necessary.

Watson knows his desire to repeal the measure will not be supported by all of his colleagues or constituents. He has received mixed responses from citizens who have called his office, although they have been more positive than negative so far.

"But when I was elected by the people, I was elected to do what I believe is right," he said. "And I believe this is right."

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or

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