Though much maligned nationally, the state's "stand your ground" law at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting case is well-liked by a majority of Florida voters, according to a new poll conducted by Quinnipiac University.
About 56 percent support the law and 35 percent oppose it, the poll released Thursday shows.
A majority opposes stricter gun-control laws. And a plurality of voters think that Tampa shouldn't be allowed to ban guns during the August Republican National Convention. But one place where an overwhelming majority Florida voters — 83 percent — think guns don't belong: the state Capitol.
That last finding drew a chuckle from gun-law critic Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democratic senator who's trying to amend "stand your ground" in the wake of the Trayvon shooting.
"Floridians love their guns," he said. "And they love the idea of "stand your ground". But when they learn it gives shooters immunity from arrest — when they learn it gives a tremendous presumption used by gangsters and thugs — then even my conservative friends think it should be changed."
But the National Rifle Association, which drafted the 2005 law and holds tremendous sway in the Florida Legislature, is fighting any changes to "stand your ground". The NRA for years has expanded gun rights and persuaded the Legislature to limit police, prosecutors and employers from controlling, monitoring or cracking down on guns.
The 2005 "stand your ground" law drew intense scrutiny after 17-year-old Travyon Martin, of Miami Gardens, was shot and killed on Feb. 26 in Sanford as he returned home from a convenience store. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, was charged with second-degree murder. He claims he shot the teen in self-defense.
Under the law, a person can "meet force with force" and can use deadly force if a person "reasonably" feels he's in mortal peril. The law eliminated a citizen's duty to retreat if confronted in public.
Zimmerman wasn't initially arrested and charged. Police cited "stand your ground". A national uproar ensued.
"Despite the controversy, public opinion seems to be solidly behind '"stand your ground"' and slightly against stricter gun control," said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac's polling institute.
Support for the "stand your ground" law ran mostly along political party lines, the poll showed. Republicans overwhelmingly support it, 78-15 percent. Independents also support it, 58-35 percent. Democrats oppose it, 59-32 percent. Men back the law, 65-31 percent, while women favor it, 48-39 percent. Support is 61-31 percent among white voters. Hispanic voters support it, 53-36 percent. Black voters oppose it, 56-30 percent.
Generally, when it comes to gun control, the poll shows 51 percent oppose stricter laws and 45 percent favor them. A narrower segment of the electorate, 49 percent, say Tampa should be allowed to temporarily ban guns during the RNC convention while 46 favor the idea. Voters from the Tampa Bay region are the most-inclined to favor the temporary RNC ban.
State Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican and drafter of the "stand your ground" bill, said he was comforted with the wide support for gun rights and the specific support for "stand your ground".
"It reflects that largely people endorse the idea of self-empowerment and standing with victims of violent attacks," he said. "We continue to see a reduction in violent crime. These are strong reasons to be very careful when people talk about changing this law."