Campaign launched to repeal 'Stand Your Ground' laws - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Campaign launched to repeal 'Stand Your Ground' laws

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The Second Chance on Shoot First campaign was launched Wednesday by a group of politicians and civil rights groups. (Source: RNN) The Second Chance on Shoot First campaign was launched Wednesday by a group of politicians and civil rights groups. (Source: RNN)
Florida State Sen. Chris Smith has repeatedly spoken out against the state's Stand Your Ground law. (Source: Sen. Chris Smith) Florida State Sen. Chris Smith has repeatedly spoken out against the state's Stand Your Ground law. (Source: Sen. Chris Smith)
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces the launch of the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign in Washington. (Source: CNN) New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces the launch of the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign in Washington. (Source: CNN)

WASHINGTON (RNN) - A coalition of civil rights organizations and politicians have launched a national campaign to address the country's controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin, 17, invigorated debate nationwide over Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which was cited by police as a reason for not arresting neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, 28.

Florida was the first state to enact the "Stand Your Ground" law, but similar laws exist in 24  states across the country. The most recent bill was signed into law in Wisconsin on Dec. 7, 2011.

Opponents of the law say it gives average citizens wider lattitude in self-defense shootings than members of law enforcement and the military.

Florida State Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has been a vocal opponent of the state's law since Martin's death, calling it a "double-edged sword" and saying it protected the rights of shooters more than the rights of victims.

"While it may have begun with all the best intentions, Florida's 'Stand your Ground' [law] has evolved into a 'Get Out of Jail free' card for those the law was never intended to protect," Smith said.

He stood together with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and members of the National Action Network, ColorofChange.org, the National Urban League Policy Institute, the NAACP, VoteVets.org and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) on Wednesday to launch the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign.

"Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law has created serious - and potentially dangerous - confusion in an area that had long been handled appropriately by prosecutors and courts," said David LaBahn, president and CEO of the APA, which has historically taken issue with similar laws across the country.

The APA said the immunity shooters get from the laws is higher than the immunity police officers get when they shoot someone in the line of duty.

Meanwhile, Iraq war veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org Jon Soltz said the law holds citizens less accountable than members of the military.

"The Rules of Engagement that I had to follow in Iraq approached threats with a clear set of steps our troops had to take before firing a weapon," he said. "The bottom line goal was always to minimize unnecessary deaths, and failure to do so would leave you open to charges of manslaughter and a court-martial."

The proliferation of "Stand Your Ground" laws was pushed by groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Rifle Association.

"These 'shoot first' laws have nothing to do with … the exercise of Second Amendment rights," Bloomberg said. "They justify civilian gunplay and invite vigilante justice and retribution."

Pointing to the public outcry over the lack of an arrest in the Trayvon Martin case, Bloomberg said the laws "have sown confusion in police departments about when to make arrests, made it more difficult for prosecutors to bring charges in cases of deadly violence and, most importantly, they have been responsible for a major increase in so-called 'justifiable homicides.'"

According to PolitiFact.com, Florida has seen the number of justifiable homicides in Florida shoot up 200 percent since the passage of the "Stand Your Ground" law in 2005, but experts are unsure as to whether the law is solely responsible for the rise.

Citing the law, Sanford, FL, police officers decided not to arrest Zimmerman after he admitted to shooting Martin on Feb. 26. He has since been charged with second-degree murder and is in custody in Seminole County.

Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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