After spending nearly three weeks camped out in the Florida Capitol building, a group of protesters known as the “Dream Defenders” has achieved one of its major goals: getting lawmakers in Tallahassee to hold a hearing on the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.
Supporters on both sides of the argument appear ready to dig in their heels.
The law, which gives someone the right to use deadly force without the duty to retreat if he or she feels his or her life is threatened by another person, has been the subject of intense scrutiny in the wake of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. (Zimmerman did not use a stand your ground defense. He said he shot Trayvon Martin in self defense after the teen attacked him and was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter charges.)
House Speaker Will Weatherford confirmed the hearing on Monday, sharing an op-ed he wrote for the Tampa Tribune on his website, in which he said he wants to see the law debated, but sees the hearing primarily as an opportunity to defend the law.
“Our evaluation of its effectiveness should be guided by objective information, not by political expediency. Does the law keep the innocent safer? Is it being applied fairly? Are there ways we can make this law clearer and more understandable?” he wrote. “These are appropriate questions that should be asked and answered.”
“Although it is appropriate to review our laws, we will not back down a single inch from our citizens’ ability to protect themselves,” he added.
Matt Gaetz, the Republican state representative tasked with running that hearing as chair of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, doesn’t believe the hearing–set for the autumn–will lead to any changes either.
Gaetz, who’s planning a run to replace his father in the state Senate n 2016, has been a vocal supporter of “Stand Your Ground,” co-authoring an op-ed for the St. Petersburg Blog with his father in May 2012 titled “Standing up for ‘Stand Your Ground.’”
“I don’t support changing one damn comma of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law,” Gaetz said Friday, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “It would be reactionary and dangerous to make Floridians less safe to pacify uninformed protesters.”
“I want to have hearings, it’s a good idea,” he added. “Right now, the only voices on stand your ground are coming from the radical left. I want an opportunity to give a full-throated defense of the law.”
Phillip Agnew, Executive Director of the Dream Defenders, is looking forward to that debate too. “We’re confident, supremely confident even, in our argument.”
“The political will around the country, the opinions around the law have changed and shifted dramatically, so much so that the organization that crafted the law originally no longer support it.”
He told PoliticsNation on Monday that the hearing’s announcement is “a small victory along our path to victory” adding that the law has had “a number of unintended consequences and we’re looking forward to the day when we can make our case before lawmakers.”
Agnew’s not backing down in the face of Gaetz’s “not one comma” confidence on the law either.
“They may not change a comma, but we’ll change a semi-colon, a few periods, and hopefully erase it,” he said.
Commas and semi-colons aside, Gaetz and Agnew may have a one-on-one debate before the hearing set for this fall, after Gaetz agreed over Twitter to debate the Dream Defenders leader on TV. Agnew’s ready for that debate as well.
“We’re looking forward to having a televised debate around ‘Stand Your Ground,” Agnew said. “We’re not afraid of any debate. The young people in the state of Florida are not afraid to speak up. We’ve fought for our seat at the table, we’ve fought for this opportunity, and we’re looking forward to speaking with Representative Gaetz about his views.”
“We both love Florida, and I think we’re going to come out of that discussion with a better way forward,” he added.
His group remains optimistic about their progress so far, but also points out that “Stand Your Ground” is just one of many issues they are protesting.
“We came here 21 days ago with a purpose of addressing ‘Stand Your Ground,’ racial profiling, and the school to prison pipeline, and I’d say we’re about a third of the way there,” he said.