Gutsy Reminder From Democrat Rod Smith: 'Stand Your Ground' Was Bipartisan
Around the State
Rod Smith's attempt to keep politics out of the Trayvon Martin tragedy is honest and courageous and entirely the right thing to do.
While liberals and other Democrats in Florida and across the nation lashed out at the 2005 Republican-led Florida Legislature for pushing through the "Stand Your Ground" law, the state Democratic chairman last week bravely clung to his own ground.
Smith's credentials on the law are rock-solid. This Democrat, this former prosecutor, co-sponsored "Stand Your Ground" while he served in the state Senate. When he says the 7-year-old law doesn't apply in the Trayvon Martin case, you are fairly compelled to listen.
And he still supports the veracity of the law.
"I did not believe then, and I still have a real concern why we should put a duty to retreat on a victim," Smith told The Tampa Times late last week. "If you were genuinely defending yourself, why did you have to retreat when you were not the perpetrator? ...
"We're talking about a young man (Martin) shot point blank at close range after you've been told not to pursue him, and no evidence that this young man was doing anything inappropriate. ... Is it reasonable to believe the smaller person attacked the larger? The younger versus the older? The unarmed versus the armed?"
Smith explained to the Times, "I've tried and defended 'Stand Your Ground' cases, and I've prosecuted murder cases. This individual (crime-watcher and shooter George Zimmerman), as I understand the facts, moved the ground toward the confrontation. That's not a 'Stand Your Ground' defense. Unless there are facts that I'm not aware of, I think you'll see an arrest made ... It's hard to believe that someone was not arrested that night."
You have to admire Smith for his remarks. They went a long way toward quelling the blame game among Florida Democrats, many of whom now claim they warned the Republican Legislature in 2005 that "Stand Your Ground" would only legalize homicide.
They can claim what they want. The truth is, that Democratic warning -- if there truly was one -- was mighty muffled.
The Senate vote on the law was 39 yeas, 0 nays, with Fort Lauderdale Democrat Mandy Dawson absent. The House vote came in a little livelier, 92-20.
Now when asked, the reason Democrats give for passing the bill like sheep through a stock gate is as former Sen. Steve Geller, a Broward County Democrat, told Sun-Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo: The National Rifle Association lobbied hard for "Stand Your Ground," it was going to pass anyway, and many Democrats facing re-election -- himself included -- didn't want to upset the police who had goodies just for them tacked onto the bill.
Next time you hear a Democrat legislator whining to a Republican about "Stand Your Ground," ask where his/her moral outrage and political courage were hiding when the vote was taken.
Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law was the first of its kind in the nation. Since 2005, 23 states have adopted a similar version -- "Stand Your Ground" or "Shoot First" or "Make My Day" -- laws asserting "expansive rights to self-defense."
Rod Smith, meanwhile, told the Times he wants to let the judicial process work. He said, yes, he believes the law is sound. But he will be the first to support restructuring it, should it be found literally to be letting people get away with murder.
I don't know a Republican or a Democrat in Florida who isn't completely and eagerly on board with that plan.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.