Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law Under Assault After George Zimmerman Verdict

The Stand Your Ground law in Florida is coming under fire after Saturday’s acquittal of George Zimmerman.

The controversial law states that a person is justified in using force in self-defense if they have a reasonable belief of an unlawful threat. Though George Zimmerman’s defense did not stress the law during the trial, it was the Stand Your Ground law that led police to initially dismiss Zimmerman as a murder suspect.

After Saturday’s verdict, amid anger over Zimmerman’s acquittal, many people and groups assailed the law that allowed him to legally shoot and kill Trayvon Martin. The NAACP and other groups called on the US Justice Department to charge Zimmerman with a civil rights violation, which they note was done after the Rodney King trial ended in acquittal.

Florida passed the Stand Your Ground law in 2005, and since then it has been enacted in several other states. But in the wake of Martin’s death last February, it has been under attack from groups trying to overturn it. The criticism has grown so widespread that even groups that once supported the Stand Your Ground law,including the NRA, have stopped advocating in favor of the law.

Many legal experts say the jury’s decision to find George Zimmerman not guilty was the right one, legally speaking, as he had the right to shoot Martin under the Stand Your Ground law.

“The jury did what they are supposed to do,” said Meghan Ryan, a professor at the SMU Dedman School of Law. “If people don’t like these laws, they should work towards changing them.”

In closing statements, prosecutor John Guy tried to argue otherwise. He said George Zimmerman actually initiated the conflict with Trayvon Martin, and had no right to cite the Stand Your Ground law in his fight with the teen.

“If the defendant did only what he is supposed to do — see and call — none of us would’ve been here,” he said. “This case isn’t about standing your ground. It is about staying in your car.”