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Florida lawmakers won't have special session on 'stand your ground'

From Joe Sutton and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 5:36 PM EDT, Wed August 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A majority of Florida lawmakers voted against holding a special session
  • House speaker: "Political expediency" shouldn't drive "stand your ground" debate
  • The "Stand Your Ground" law drew national attention after Trayvon Martin's death

(CNN) -- Florida legislators won't hold a special session to take another look at the state's controversial "stand your ground" law.

While 47 state lawmakers voted in favor of holding a special session to discuss the law, 108 voted against it, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in a letter Tuesday.

State law requires a three-fifths majority of both houses of the Florida Legislature to convene a special session, Detzner said.

The law drew national attention last year after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman's defense never cited "stand your ground" laws in its case, but jurors were instructed to consider them during deliberations in the high-profile trial. The jury acquitted Zimmerman last month of all charges in the shooting of Martin.

But national debate over racial issues raised in the case and "stand your ground" laws hasn't slowed.

Days after Zimmerman's acquittal, a student-led group occupied Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office and asked him to call a special session to overturn the "stand your ground" law.

Scott met with them a few days later to hear their demands but told them he would not call the special session.

About 20% of Florida's lawmakers had filed a request to convene a special session over the matter, Detzner said.

But a majority of lawmakers opposed that approach.

"Demands for a special session to repeal the law disregard the very foundation of our representative democracy by presuming that a law passed by the majority of a constitutional body should be reversed by the objections of a few," Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford wrote in an editorial published by The Tampa Tribune earlier this month.

Weatherford, a Republican, said he had asked a House committee to hold a hearing on the law this fall.

"Our evaluation of its effectiveness should be guided by objective information, not by political expediency," he wrote.

The Florida version of the law states, "A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

Eight other states have laws worded similarly, while 22 total states, including Florida, have laws stating that residents have no "duty" to retreat from a would-be attacker, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Civil rights groups attack the laws as racially motivated.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the laws "try to fix something that was never broken" and now encourage "violent situations to escalate in public."

But just as adamantly as the laws are decried, the National Rifle Association has stood by the measures it helped many states adopt.

"The attorney general fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept; it's a fundamental human right," said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "To send a message that legitimate self-defense is to blame is unconscionable."

CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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