Why Florida Senate Democrats voted with Republicans on “Stand Your ground” law: “We’d be seen as Democrats soft on crime”

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In looking back  “Stand Your Ground Laws”. Florida House Democrats opposed it, Florida House and Senate Republicans supported it:

Gelber said Floridians already had the right to defend themselves in their homes and offered an amendment that would restore a person’s duty to retreat from a confrontation in public places. Rep. Eleanor Sobel, a South Florida Democrat who now serves in the Senate, said Gelber’s amendment would reduce “chaos on the street.”

Republicans defeated Gelber’s amendment on a voice vote. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, called an obligation to retreat “a good way to get shot in the back.”

Members debated another unsuccessful amendment from Rep. Jack Seiler, a Democrat who is now mayor of Fort Lauderdale. Seiler’s proposal would have allowed for rebuttal to a person’s claim of self-defense.

“We are going to give blanket immunity to criminals when they commit crime,” Seiler said.

Other voices from the hour-long debate:

• “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 than I looked,” said Rep. Priscilla Taylor, D-West Palm Beach.

• “When you give a person the right to use deadly force anywhere they’re lawfully supposed to be, then we open Pandora’s Box, and inside the box will be death for some persons,” Joyner said.

• “In a few years, you will be back trying to fix this bill,” said Rep. Ken Gottlieb, D-Hollywood.

What did Democrats in the Florida State Senate do? Voted for it (unanimously) because they were afraid to be seen as soft on crime:

Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, tried changing the bill before the vote so that it would not apply to public places. The Senate voted down his amendment in minutes. The vote to pass the bill was then unanimous, with Democrats, including Sen. Rod Smith, currently chair of the Florida Democratic Party, voting yes.

“We’d be seen as Democrats soft on crime,” Geller explained, according to an account from the Associated Press.

The Florida House Democrats opposition has been validated by numerous poor law enforcement outcomes directly attributable to “stand your ground” laws. The Florida State Senate Democrats are basically useless here because they didn’t want to be against a bill that Police and prosecutor associations vehemently opposed.

In Florida, prosecutors and police associations opposed Stand Your Ground, to no effect. Since the law was passed, the number of “justifiable homicides” has tripled. Last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times, “twice a week, on average, someone’s killing was considered warranted.” This week, the state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, told the Times, “The consequences of the law have been devastating around the state. It’s almost insane what we are having to deal with.” Gang members, drug dealers, and road-rage killers are, according to Meggs, all successfully invoking Stand Your Ground. “The person who is alive always says, ‘I was in fear that he was going to hurt me.’ … And the other person would say, ‘I wasn’t going to hurt anyone.’ But he is dead. That is the problem they are wrestling with in Sanford.”

So the logic here for Florida Senate Dems: We didn’t want to seem like soft on crime, so we let ourselves get punked into a bad law that even the Police and Prosecutors said would make crime worse and remove the ability to seek justice in violent crimes.

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