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Killing shows flaws of NRA-backed law

By Zachary L. Weaver, Special to CNN
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri March 23, 2012
The death of Trayvon Martin highlights the potential deficiencies of the
The death of Trayvon Martin highlights the potential deficiencies of the "stand your ground" law in Florida, says Zachary Weaver.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Florida's 'stand your ground' law permit citizens to use force in self-defense
  • Zachary Weaver: National Rifle Association had reasons to support the law
  • Weaver: Law officers who opposed the measure should have gotten more attention
  • He says given the tragegy of Trayvon Martin, we need to reconsider the law

Editor's note: Zachary L. Weaver is an attorney at Lewis Tein, PL, based in Florida. He is the author of "Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' Law: The Actual Effects and the Need for Clarification."

Miami (CNN) -- The death of Trayvon Martin is an undeniable tragedy. People are outraged, and rightly so, because a young, unarmed teenager lost his life. The incident has brought Florida's "stand your ground" law into sharp focus in the center of a media and legal firestorm.

The shooting of Martin was not something that the Florida Legislature anticipated would happen when it enacted the law in 2005.

When the law was pushed through the legislature, its supporters, including the National Rifle Association, proclaimed it as necessary to give law-abiding citizens the ability to protect themselves.

The law expanded an individual's legal right to use force, including deadly force, in self-defense. And it allows it in any place, not just in one's home, without fear of civil or criminal consequences when the individual has a "reasonable" fear of death or great bodily harm.

Zachary L. Weaver
Zachary L. Weaver

The National Rifle Association lobbied hard for the law in Florida, which passed the House and Senate with almost no opposition. Based on its resounding success in Florida, the NRA lobbied for similar legislation in many other states. The vast majority of these acts also passed.

One cannot entirely fault the NRA for supporting the bill. Simply put, it's good for business. As people are encouraged to purchase and use firearms to protect themselves, presumably more guns are purchased and more individuals join the association.

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Will FL law hurt Martin investigation?
'Stand your ground' or duty to retreat?

However, it's becoming increasingly clear that the ramifications of the law are murky.

In hindsight, it's easy to say the Florida Legislature should have been troubled by the law when it was introduced in the state. And that more attention should have been paid to law enforcement officers and prosecutors who strongly opposed it. Now, these people's fears have proved to be well-founded.

For police and prosecutors, the law causes confusion as to when prosecution is appropriate. The statute has led to many nonprosecutions after investigations -- it is hard to find that a person did not act in self-defense when the person that was being defended against cannot refute the allegations, i.e., dead men don't talk.

Many blame the present lack of prosecution in the Martin case on the law. George Zimmerman's belief in his right to use a firearm in self-defense against Martin is difficult to dispute. And legally, the police cannot simply arrest and prosecute him for Martin's death.

So the question remains: Is the law working for the residents of Florida and other states? The answer depends on your perspective.

More cases result in no prosecution because of the law, and the law has led to a variety of wins for defendants on motions to dismiss before a trial by jury. Potential defendants and their attorneys undoubtedly see this as a positive change and certainly there are instances where the use of force in self-defense is warranted. But this expanded right to self-defense comes at a price -- more individuals are likely to use deadly force because they feel protected by the law, and more innocent people who may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time are likely to die or be seriously injured as a result.

Trayvon Martin's death highlights the potential deficiencies and problematic aspects of the law. Let's hope it will force the Florida Legislature and legal system to face these difficult gray areas in what perhaps seemed like a straightforward law when it was passed. Regardless of how the facts of the Martin case play out, lawmakers and the public that elects them should consider whether the law is a benefit to all citizens.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Zachary L. Weaver.

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