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Gun law repeal efforts fail — at least for now

Bipartisan Senate-based bill could be a breakthrough in ending stand your ground

D. Kevin McNeir | 11/14/2013, 9 a.m.
Close to 300 people were on hand at a recent House Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearing in Tallahassee — a five-hour, ...

Close to 300 people were on hand at a recent House Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearing in Tallahassee — a five-hour, often emotional discussion that focused on efforts to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law.

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Phillip Agnew

Many of those who attended signed up to share their views on the controversial law. But in the end, the Florida House panel rejected the proposal to repeal the law. However, they did approve efforts to expand the law and grant immunity to those who fire a warning shot.

State Representative Alan Williams, a Democrat from Tallahassee, said he supports repealing Stand Your Ground because “a number of cases have shown us over and over that the law as adopted in 2005 isn’t working.”

The committee rejected the repeal bill by an 11-2 vote. The two supporters, both Democrats, were State Rep. Randolph Bracy, of Orlando and State Rep. Kionne McGhee — a first time legislator whose District 117 includes Richmond Heights, Florida City, Homestead, Goulds, Cutler Bay and Naranja.

“The committee shot down House Bill 4003, a repealer bill, that would have removed State statute 776.103 from the law books,” McGhee said. “But we needed the majority of legislators to vote in our favor — that didn’t happen. Our governor has refused to call the legislature for a special session on the law but House Speaker Will Weatherford has agreed to a hearing on the law in the fall.”

Bipartisanship may be key to a repeal

McGhee added that while the repeal drive was unsuccessful, he remains optimistic.

“This will go down in history as one of the most heartfelt and life-altering decisions that elected officials in Florida

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Kionne McGhee

will ever make,” he said. “That said, the Senate now has a bill being co-sponsored by Senator Simmons, a Republican, and Senator [Chris] Smith, a Democrat. They’ve come together in a bipartisan effort and their bill to change the language of the law has already passed committee. We’re hoping it will come over to the House so we can be victorious in getting some traction in terms of changing the laws. It’s one of the best pieces of legislation we’ve seen in a long time and it has the backing of law enforcement, prosecutors, community activists and legislators.

State Representative Perry Thurston, who recently announced his candidacy for state attorney general, said during the testimonies that he would be more inclined to support a bipartisan reform bill akin to the one that is now on the Senate floor.

Youth demand to be heard

McGhee noted that a huge contingency of young adults showed up for the hearing, many of them being part of the Dream Defenders grassroots movement.

“I was proud of them and it was clear in their testimonies that they are very informed about Stand Your Ground laws,” he said. They and the Lamplighters are young people on a mission.”

Readers may recall that it was the Dream Defenders who, under the leadership of Phillip Agnew, 28, a FAMU Student Body president and School of Business and Industry 2008 graduate, that led extensive protests and demonstrations, including a 31-day sit-in at Florida’s Capitol after the Zimmerman verdict was announced.

“For now the Dream Defenders is just a Florida group and we really aren’t a card-carrying group, but our base is growing,” Agnew said.

He estimated that there are about 250 “members.”

“We were at the hearing because we needed to go on record as saying that Stand Your Ground is a very bad law that needs to get off the books,” he said. “That’s one of our priorities but there are other issues that we’re concerned about too, like a school-to-prison bill that Senator Bullard is supporting. As for Stand Your Ground, it’s an ongoing fight. But if we can win in Florida and have it repealed, we believe other states will soon follow.”