ORLANDO – Using the George Zimmerman arrest as a starting point, the Florida Civil Rights Association is calling on the state to pull not only Zimmerman’s gun permit, but also to reopen 68 cases in which people were charged with a violent crime, then successfully used Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to gain an acquittal.
“Initially, the focus was on making sure the institutional injustice handed to the Martin family was rectified,” said Shayan Elahi, an attorney for the Florida Civil Rights Association. “Now the Florida Civil Rights Association is very concerned with the Stand Your Ground law.”
The association held a press conference on Thursday outside the Florida Division of Licensing Orlando regional office in downtown Orlando. That building also houses the local office of Adam Putnam, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture, who oversees the licensing of gun permits. Florida law allows the state’s agriculture commissioner to pull a resident’s gun license if the office has been notified by local law enforcement that a permit holder is being charged with a felony.
Otherwise, a resident would only lose their gun license if they get convicted of a felony.
Zimmerman was arrested on Wednesday and charged with second degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, at the apartment complex in Sanford where Zimmerman was a watch commander. Zimmerman had claimed he acted in self defense, and was not initially charged with a crime. Martin’s family protested the lack of an arrest, and so did local, state and national civil rights leaders.
That prompted Gov. Rick Scott to appointment a special investigator, State Attorney Angela Corey of Jacksonville, to take over the case.
Elahi and other civil rights leaders held the press conference to urge the agriculture commissioner to yank Zimmerman’s gun permit. Zimmerman remains in the Seminole County Jail in Sanford.
Scott also appointed a Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection to investigate how to ensure that a similar tragedy doesn’t happen in the future, and part of their task will be to review the Stand Your Ground law, which involves when the use deadly force with an armed weapon is lawful.
“Since this law was passed, 130 people were murdered, and in 130 of those cases, Stand Your Ground was used as a defense,” Elahi said.
In 68 of those cases, the defendant was found not guilty, he said.
“Stand Your Ground allowed them to get off scott-free,” he said. “We’re asking today that Commissioner Putnam look into those 68 cases where people got off scott-free. Those people are walking around now with concealed weapons permits.”
He also called on the Florida Legislature to reexamine both Stand Your Ground and whether individuals who have been charged with violent crimes should lose their permit to carry a concealed weapon.
“Both parties have an obligation at this point to look into this law, and look into those 68 cases,” he said.
J. Willie David III, the head of the Florida Civil Rights Association, said he hopes the state will use the tragic death of Trayvon Martin to make changes in the law, changes that make all Floridians safer.
“There are some things that need to be addressed,” he said. “There’s tragedy that can lead to healing in our country. This death does not have to be in vain.”
By making it harder for people accused of violent crimes to carry a gun, he said, state lawmakers will be able to “show this kind of tragedy will never happen again,” Dixon said.
Vince Taylor, the association’s vice chair of community outreach, said the wheels of justice started on Wednesday, when Zimmerman was finally arrested after nearly two months without being charged.
“It’s sad that Trayvon is still dead, but it’s a good thing that his killer is no longer on the streets,” Taylor said.
Now, Taylor said, is the time for all 50 states to reassess their gun laws, and the way the court system deals with allegations of gun violence.
“The Sanford community is now engaged, and will move forward,” he said. “This moment shall be turned into a movement. This is not just a Sanford issue. This is not just a Trayvon Martin issue. This is an American issue.”
That reexamination can start, Elahi said, by using the authority the state has already granted to the agriculture commissioner to examine all instances when a gun owners has been arrested and charged with a violent crime or felony.
“The governor and the executive branch can act at any time to protect the citizens,” Elahi said. “Trayvon Martin’s tragedy has become symbolic of the lack of justice. As an attorney, I have used self-defense in court before. But this Stand Your Ground law was bought and paid for the the NRA (National Rifle Association).”
If the law stays on the books and does not get challenged, he said, it means anyone could legally use gun violence to solve any confrontation – and not expect to face a criminal penalty for doing so.
“That is the wild west,” Elahi said. “We are a civilized nation.”
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