Armed citizens would not be able to automatically cite "stand your ground" protections if they provoke or pursue their assailants following confrontations, under a measure filed Wednesday by the Senate Democratic leader.
Responding to the death earlier this year of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer, Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, introduced a bill (SB 136) that would also allow law enforcement officers to arrest suspects who invoke the state's controversial stand-your-ground law under questionable circumstances.
These common-sense changes are not about taking away gun rights from Floridians, Smith said in a statement. "It's about stemming the culture of violence in our society by putting responsibility for the consequences back into the hands of gun users, and anyone who deploys deadly force under stand-your-ground.
Existing law prohibits authorities from arresting stand-your-ground defendants unless there is probable cause to believe their actions were unlawful. The law is also unclear, Smith says, on whether someone can invoke the stand-your-ground law when they pursue their assailant.
Smith's bill, which is likely to face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Legislature, would require the state to set up a database to investigate the use of stand-your-ground defenses, which have come under increased scrutiny following Martin's death.
Neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman faces a second-degree murder charge despite his contention that he feared for his own safety. Zimmerman shot Martin during a confrontation in a gated community in Sanford.
The death ignited a national firestorm of debate over issues of race, guns and self-defense.
Smith formed his own task force after Martin's death. The panel is separate from another set up by Gov. Rick Scott to investigate possible changes in the stand-your-ground law, which allows people to use deadly force if they feel they are facing death or great bodily harm.
The law is an extension of the so-called "castle doctrine," which allows residents to use deadly force to defend themselves in their homes or vehicles.
The Governor's Task Force on Citizens Safety and Protection released a draft report in November following multiple hearings around the state that included testimony from 140 citizens and thousands of emails and other correspondence. The final report has yet to be released.
The draft report listed a handful of recommendations that included better education efforts to inform members of the public of their rights, training for law enforcement on the parameters of the law and possible tweaking of language to determine the definition of "unlawful activity."
The draft did not include any significant changes to existing law, but instead went out of its way to endorse the stand-your-ground statute.
The task force's first core recommendation was this:
"The Task Force concurs with the core belief that all persons, regardless of citizenship status, have a right to feel safe and secure in our state," the draft report stated. "To that end, all persons have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be and are conducting themselves in a lawful manner."