In 2005, several Democrats in Florida’s House of Representatives predicted the Stand Your Ground law would lead to tragic deaths, racial profiling and a case of legislative regret—predictions that seem eerily prescient in the wake of the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
In a two-hour floor debate over the Stand Your Ground law, opponents predicted what a growing chorus of voices believe happened in the case of Trayvon: deaths sparked by racial profiling, law enforcement’s inability to arrest shooters who use a Stand Your Ground defense, and even future calls to have the law repealed.
Some said the law would create a Wild Wild West atmosphere, and would allow criminals to go scot-free, and several black lawmakers pointed out that a perceived suspicion of threat or bodily harm can often be tied to someone’s race.
Still, the bill passed the House with broad support, on a 94-20 vote, and had previously passed the Senate with a unanimous vote. Now, even the bill sponsors say that the law was not intended for cases like Martin’s, and the man who shot him, George Zimmerman, should likely be arrested.
“It wasn’t hard to predict that this was going to have very harmful consequences,” said Dan Gelber, a former House Representative that tried to defeat the bill in 2005. “This was created…to address a problem that literally didn’t exist. It has created unintended, but very predictable consequences.”
Here’s a sampling of some of the warnings opponents launched during a two-hour debate on the floor of the Florida House back in 2005.
Rep. Priscilla Taylor, D-West Palm Beach
“What would happen if a teenager or a young adult approached me--someone who looked different than I look, someone who dressed different--and I actually felt threatened? What would happen if I presumed that there was a threat, when actually there was not a threat? I would hate to think that I would react and take someone’s life or do bodily harm to someone who actually only looked a little different that I looked.”
Rep. Joyce Cusack, a black Democrat from Deland, said:
“How many of you would feel threatened if my nephew and his friends were approaching you on the street? How many of you would think that you were in imminent danger? Because of this law that we’re about to pass now, you’d have the right to shoot any of them, and say that you’ve done it in the name of the law.”
Rep. Kenneth Gottlieb, D-Hollywood
“With this bill, innocent people are going to get shot and have no ability to get compensated or, their due, because they’ve been shot,” he said.
“If you vote for this, you are going to be very upset and in a few years you will be back trying to fix this bill…because innocent people could be shot.”
Rep. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa
“When you give a person the right to use deadly force anywhere they appear to be, we are opening Pandora’s box. And inside the box will be death for some persons.”
“We should not be passing laws that allow people to shoot people in the street just because they subjectively think they are in danger of great bodily harm.”
Rep. John P. Seiler, D- Wilton Manors
Said a clause in the bill “absolutely defeats law enforcement’s ability to ever prosecute, even when somebody abuses this law.”
Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach
“This bill creates a presumption that was never presumed before – you should presume that if someone is breaking into your house or is approaching you, they’re going to kill you. We don’t think that everybody that is walking towards you is going to kill you.”
“Passing this bill will be a gun law to create loopholes for criminals.”
Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston
“This bill is about allowing criminals to get away with a crime. And that really is my issue. My issue is that this bill protects criminals from civil and criminal prosecution and from civil liability.”
Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg
“We’re going to have open season in our community as it relates to confrontations throughout this state. I believe also that there is already a sense of aggressive behavior in parts of our state.”
“I believe we are opening up Pandora’s box, and if we don’t watch it, we are going to back to the O.K. Corral – this will be the Wild Wild West.”
Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs
“All it’s going to do I sell more guns and possibly turn the state of Florida into the O.K. Corral.”
Republicans defended the Stand Your Ground provision during the debat, stating that it would protect grandmothers from rape and other vulnerable people from attack.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, bill sponsor
“This bill is intended to let [Floridians] know that when they are defending themselves, that the law is behind them.”
Rep. Jeff Kottkamp, R- Cape Coral:
“I think it’s time to let law abiding citizens take a stand against violent criminals.
Rep. Donald Brown, R-DeFuniak Springs
“I have experienced in my personal family the loss of child, I know the value of life,” he said. “I don’t believe that voting for this bill in any way devalues life.”