Task force meets to look at Florida's 'stand your ground' law

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Story highlights

  • Florida's review "is not here to try the Zimmerman-Martin case," its chairwoman says
  • The task force held its first session Tuesday
  • The author of the "stand your ground" law is on the task force
  • The group will hear from residents through public testimony

A task force set up to examine Florida's "stand your ground" law after the Trayvon Martin shooting met for the first time Tuesday, but its leader said the panel's job goes beyond the Martin case.

The 19-member panel will review the full scope of Florida laws governing residents' use of deadly force, not just the issues raised by Martin's death, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said at the outset of the session.

"This task force is not here to try the Zimmerman-Martin case. We are charged to review the public safety law and make recommendations," Carroll said.

Gov. Rick Scott convened the task force amid widespread protests over Martin's killing by a neighborhood watch volunteer in February. The volunteer, George Zimmerman, told police he shot the unarmed 17-year-old in self-defense during a scuffle.

Zimmerman was arrested on a second-degree murder charge on April 11 after a lengthy delay punctuated by protests and rallies nationwide calling for charges against him.

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The task force will review Florida Statutes Title 46, Chapter 776, which deals with justifiable use of force -- including the "stand your ground" provision, which allows people to use deadly force when they feel a reasonable threat of death or serious injury. Critics and defenders of the law have argued over just what it allows, when it applies and whether it achieves its intended effect.

Carroll opened the proceedings by defending the panel from allegations that it was stacked with supporters of the "stand your ground" law, including its sponsor in the state House of Representatives and three other lawmakers who supported it.

    "Out of the 19 total members of the task force, I am unaware of the other 15 members' positions on this law or whether they favor or disfavor gun laws," she said. "So it is a mischaracterization for anyone to presume this task force is not balanced."

    The panel will take testimony at public meetings across the state. The first session will be held in the state capital, Tallahassee, and its recommendations will be passed along to the governor and the Legislature.

    Although details of the shooting remain murky, it is known that Martin ventured out from the Sanford, Florida, home of his father's fiancee and went to a nearby convenience store, where he bought a bag of candy and an iced tea. On his way back, he had a confrontation with Zimmerman, who shot him.

    Critics accuse Zimmerman, who is Latino, of racially profiling and unjustly killing Martin, who was African-American. But Carroll, who is also African-American, said the law under review is "not about race."

    Officials hope the task force will complete its work by the time of the state's next legislative session, so changes could be made then, she said. A member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Michael Yaki of San Francisco, said last week that he will ask that agency to investigate such laws.