Several States Consider 'Stand Your Ground' Bills
By TODD LESKANIC
Twenty-one states are considering laws modeled on the "Stand Your Ground" legislation passed in Florida last year.
Like the Florida law, those other bills would allow people to use deadly force to defend themselves if they feel threatened in their homes, cars or anywhere they have a right to be.
The speedy proliferation of the "Stand Your Ground" legislation isn't surprising, experts say. The National Rifle Association for years has used Florida as a testing ground for gun-rights laws.
David Kopel, research director of the conservative Independence Institute think tank in Golden, Colo., compared "Stand Your Ground" legislation to the concealed carry permit law Florida adopted in 1987.
"If a gun law doesn't lead to disaster in Florida, people tend to think it'll be fine in their state as well," Kopel said.
The "Stand Your Ground" law passed easily in Tallahassee last year behind the lobbying of the NRA and other gun rights groups; experts expect the same this year in at least six other states, possibly more. The legislation is most likely to pass in Indiana, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and Arizona, according to experts and legislators.
Several proponents said they spoke with Marion Hammer, the NRA's Florida lobbyist, before filing their bills.
Hammer attributed the spread of "Stand Your Ground" bills, in part, to the publicity generated by the debate in Florida last year.
"We raised the consciousness of what's actually going on in individual states to a level where people wanted to be sure they could do what they thought they could do," she said.
Johnny Nugent, a Republican in the Indiana senate, said he decided to introduce legislation there after reading about the issue in NRA magazines and talking to Hammer.
"Before that, I hadn't thought a whole lot of about it," he said. "I knew what I would be doing to protect myself and my family, and I felt like I'd be treated fairly in a court by a jury."
State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, presented the Florida law he sponsored as model legislation to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization of state legislators. The council adopted it last summer.
But some experts said the popularity of "Stand Your Ground" legislation has more to do with the NRA's clout than a shift in thinking about gun laws.
"I don't think too many people in office are particularly enthusiastic about this legislation," said Robert Batey, a professor at Stetson University's College of Law and a critic of the bills. "I think they simply don't want to cross the NRA."
"Stand Your Ground" legislation has sold well because it sounds like a good idea when packaged as a 15-second sound byte. Further explanation of the bills might make people think twice, though, Batey said.
Critics charge that such bills send the message that violence is OK.
Peter Hamm of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said the bills have been orchestrated by the NRA to help gun manufacturers increase sales, calling the movement "nothing more than a marketing campaign disguised as an urgent policy need." He questioned the need for the "Stand Your Ground" bills, given that the law usually sides with people who shoot someone in self-defense.
"The usual conservative doctrine is that we don't need new laws for everything," Hamm said. "This is a textbook case of an area where we don't need new laws."