Skip to Main Content

Stand Your Ground – How it Came to Be

Stand Your Ground – How it Came to Be

What the Jury Hears Now and Before

When Florida Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson issued the jury instructions in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, she read:

If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Here is the actual jury instruction read to Florida juries BEFORE the legislature’s enactment of Stand Your Ground:

The defendant cannot justify the use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm unless he used every reasonable means within his power and consistent with his own safety to avoid the danger before resorting to that force. The fact that the defendant was wrongfully attacked cannot justify his use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm if by retreating he could have avoided the need to use that force.

When was Stand Your Ground First Uttered?

johnparkerOn April 19, 1775, John Parker was the captain in command of 77 members of the Lexington militia when, according to history, he issued the famous order: “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Except he didn’t. A veteran of the French and Indian War, John Parker had fought at Louisburg and Quebec before becoming the key figure at the opening battle of the American Revolution. His legendary quote is even engraved on a monument on Lexington Green. However, historians have acknowledged this quote was fabricated in the 1800s and is not accurate to 1775. By Parker’s own sworn deposition, as the British troops approached, realizing that his force was greatly outnumbered, he gave his men the order to disperse.

He retreated. To save life. Revisionist History.

Fast Forward to Florida

The Stand Your Ground conversation blew into Florida in November of 2004. James Workman moved his family into a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer outside of Pensacola after his house was badly damaged by hurricane Ivan. Workman heard a noise outside and thought someone was trying to break in. The “attempted burglar” was stopped with Mr. Workman’s .38 revolver. The stranger turned out to be a disoriented temporary FEMA employee, who was checking for looters and distressed homeowners. Workman was never arrested, but three months went by before authorities cleared him of wrongdoing.

That same year, the NRA awarded State Rep. Dennis Baxley its “Defender of Freedom” award. Baxley repaid the NRA with bolstering Workman’s case into a political movement. Four hurricanes hit the state that year and there was fear about widespread looting. The looting never happened.

But in Baxley’s view, Floridians who defended themselves or their property with lethal force shouldn’t worry about any legal repercussions. The NRA Defender of Freedom wanted gun owners to have the freedom to defend themselves no matter of being right and wrong. Baxley convinced Florida Senator Durell Peaden to propose what would become known as “Stand Your Ground,” a law eliminating any duty to reason or retreat for legal gun owners.

Insert Marion Hammer. At under 5 feet tall and over 75 years-old, Marion Hammer isn’t who you think of when you close your eyes and think “gun enthusiast.” And then you read about her- a former NRA president and founder of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, a heavy hitting NRA affiliate, allowing the NRA to double donations. Her own NRA bio says she, “began handling firearms as a toddler.” Throughout her career, Hammer has been portrayed as something of a “cross between a chain-smoking bulldog and a steely-eyed, uncompromising drill sergeant” and that’s by those that like her. “Generally, the NRA brings out the redneck good ol’ boys with the gun racks, but when you scratch Marion, she’s no different,” Harry Johnston, a former Florida State Senate president, said in 1987. “She’s a good ol’ boy in a skirt.” The NRA and similar gun-rights organizations pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for her decades of influence.

150px-nra_lobbyist_watches_jeb_signBaxley and Peaden claim they got the idea from lobbyist Marion Hammer, but they wrote the bill. Hammer claims she got the idea from the Florida legislators, but the NRA wrote the bill that ultimately became Florida law and then model legislation adopted by over half of the US. “Most legislation is written by lobbyists, legislators and bill-drafters,” Hammer said. “In most cases, legislation comes about as a result of some action that causes legislators to believe that there is a need for remedial legislation. (The) NRA did help draft the Castle Doctrine Law and Senator Peaden was the one that came to us and said we have a bad situation here and we need to do something about it.” She added, “he came to us, we helped draft (Stand Your Ground), he took it, he put it in the bill drafting, it came out of bill drafting, it came through the process, it passed.”

All told, more than a third of the Florida legislators who co-sponsored the Stand Your Ground bill enjoyed the NRA’s financial backing between 1996 and 2005. The NRA also maxed out on direct contributions to Governor Jeb Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns in 1998 and 2002, and it gave $125,000 to the Florida GOP between 2004 and 2010—more than it gave to any other state’s party.

When the Florida Stand Your Ground bill, that became the ALEC model, was signed into law on April 26, 2005 by Governor Jeb Bush, Marion Hammer stood alongside. For emphasis let me repeat, the NRA’s greatest and most longterm lobbyist solely stood right next to the Governor of Florida as he signed the law she drafted. And some say the NRA isn’t powerful?

ALEC and the NRA

From Florida, the Stand Your Ground law spread with the help of ALEC. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a 501(c)(3), Washington, D.C. based group that lobbies for conservative laws in state legislatures. Some of the nation’s largest and richest companies, including Koch Industries, Exxon-Mobil, and AT&T, have joined forces to invest millions of dollars each year. It counts among its members some 2,000 state legislators and corporate executives. Wal-Mart was one of their largest sponsors.

In 2005, Walmart was the nation’s largest seller of guns and ammunition. The Waltons and Walmart have reaped financial benefits from many ALEC bills- heightened regulations on swap meets and flea markets, increased penalties to steal from its stores, harsher penalties for thieves who leave stores through the emergency exit door and a host of others. Until very recently, Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation have consistently been listed side-by-side as chairman-level sponsors of ALEC’s meetings, as well as its overall agenda. In 2005, Wal-Mart executive Janet Scott co-chaired ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force (it later became the Public Safety and Elections Task Force in 2009). Maggie Sans, Walmart’s vice president of public affairs and government relations, served as secretary of ALEC’s private enterprise board.

nra_2005In August 2005, in Grapevine, Texas, the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied the Criminal Justice Task Force to support legislation ending the duty to retreat from any encounter, allowing people to stand their own ground. In executive boardrooms leading up to this event, ALEC drafted a “model” law it sought to press onto its membership in early 2005. Minutes documenting a 2005 meeting from an old ALEC website show that Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association (NRA) personally pitched the Florida law as model legislation to ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force. An old NRA update also documented the meeting. “Her talk was well-received, and the task force subsequently adopted the measure unanimously,” the NRA wrote in an Aug. 12, 2005 post on the NRA website. Marion did it again- based on Florida’s unsubstantiated fear of looting and words a militia man never said.

Spreading Influence

With ALEC and Marion Hammer’s help, Florida began exporting its laws to other statehouses. “We definitely brought that bill forward to ALEC,” said Florida Legislator Baxley. “It’s a place where you can share ideas. I don’t see anything nefarious about sharing good ideas.” Since 2005, the year Florida’s law was passed, gun manufacturers like Beretta, Remington, and Glock have poured as much $40 million into the NRA’s lobbying coffers.

Two years after Stand Your Ground passed in Florida, the number of “justifiable homicides” by civilians more than doubled, and it nearly tripled by 2011. The FBI statistics show a similar national trend: Justifiable homicides doubled in states with Florida-style laws, while they remained flat or fell in states that lacked them. According to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of public records and newspaper clips, Stand Your Ground has been invoked at least 130 times since its passage in 2005, including a dramatic spike during the past 18 months. In more than 70% of Stand Your Ground cases, it was used as self-defense in a fatality. In at least 50 cases, prosecutors declined to bring charges. Another nine defendants were given immunity in court, while nine more saw their charges dismissed. In Florida, claims of justifiable homicide in Florida have tripled since the law’s passage in 2005.

In April, ALEC disbanded the panel that pushed Stand Your Ground and redirected funds to “task forces that focus on the economy.” Wal-Mart has also stepped back from ALEC. But the damage was done. They have sold fear and power in records numbers.
Back to Florida

Since 2005, Florida lawmakers have taken aim at gun control with a barrage of deregulation measures:

  • Requiring employers to let employees keep guns in their cars while at work
  • Requiring city and county governments to allow guns in public buildings and parks
  • Lifting a long-standing ban on guns in national forests and state parks
  • Allowing military personnel as young as 17 to get concealed-weapons licenses. (Age limit remains 21 for everyone else.)
  • Withholding the names of concealed-carry licensees in public records
  • Permitting concealed-carry licensees “to briefly and openly display the firearm to the ordinary sight of another person.” (The original bill would have allowed guns on college campuses, but it was amended after a GOP lawmaker’s friend’s daughter was accidentally killed with an AK-47 at a frat party.)
  • Prohibiting doctors from asking patients if they keep guns or ammo in the house unless it’s “relevant” to their care or safety. (Overturned by a federal judge.)
  • Allowing legislators, school board members, and county commissioners to carry concealed weapons at official meetings. (Didn’t pass; another bill to let judges pack heat “at any time and in any place” died in 2009.)
  • Designating a day for tax-free gun purchases. (Didn’t pass.)
  • Exempting guns manufactured in Florida from any federal regulations. (Didn’t pass.)

If you don’t like like being led by someone you never elected, isn’t it time to speak out? It is time to register to vote, to realize there will be no justice if we keep electing those who allow the gun-packing little old lady to buy their time, to do more, say more and realize this isn’t just a race issue. We will talk more about the flaws in the little old gun packing lady’s law in upcoming posts.