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'Loud music' verdict increases call to alter Florida gun law

Floridians against the state's Stand-Your-Ground policy are viewing the recent verdict in the Michael Dunn trial as reason for gun reform.
Michael Dunn raises his hands in disbelief as he looks at his parents after the verdicts were announced in his trial in Jacksonville, Florida Feb. 15, 2014.
Michael Dunn raises his hands in disbelief as he looks at his parents after the verdicts were announced in his trial in Jacksonville, Florida Feb. 15, 2014.

Critics of Florida's so-called Stand-Your-Ground law are using the recent verdict in the "loud music" murder trial as basis to propose a change to the state's gun policies.

Michael Dunn was convicted Saturday on three counts of second-degree attempted murder in the 2012 death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn, 47, is white, while Davis was black.

The jury, however, did not reach a verdict on Dunn's first-degree murder charge, resulting in a mistrial on that count.

"This law, all too often, has been used to justify racial profiling and embolden people to engage in unnecessary, confrontational behavior," Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown of Florida said in a statement on Saturday. "We wholeheartedly believe that this heinous law should be repealed."

The current Stand-Your-Ground law gives individuals the right to use deadly force to defend themselves without retreating from potentially harmful situations.

Dunn allegedly fired multiple rounds at Davis and his friends, after fighting with them about music coming from their SUV in a Jacksonville, Fla., parking lot. Jurors on Saturday found Dunn guilty on one charge of shooting into an occupied vehicle in addition to the murder attempts.

Dunn, a software engineer who has a concealed-weapons permit, said he felt threatened when he thought he saw a gun emerge from a window of the SUV. Police didn't find any weapons inside the vehicle.

Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley, who sponsored the Stand-Your-Ground bill in 2005, said no one made it a defense in the Dunn case; rather, he said, it is an issue of being prosecuted and brought to trial.

"The Dunn case is not a Stand-Your-Ground case. People misunderstand this self-protection law. It applies only to the issue of whether someone should be prosecuted or not," Baxley, a Republican, told msnbc.

"This discussion in this case still assures me that I need to be very cautious about anything that would diminish the ability of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from violence," Baxley added. "It doesn't mean that when you have difficult cases to resolve that there is something wrong with the legislation."

Florida was the first state to adopt the law in 2005 as an expansion of the "Castle Doctrine," or the right of individuals to defend themselves and their homes from invasion. Nearly half of the country has joined the state in adopting a similar Stand-Your-Ground policy, most often originally aimed at addressing domestic abuse cases.

The policy continues to be the subject of national debate, renewed after George Zimmerman's acquittal last summer in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.  Florida lawmakers subsequently rejected a proposal in November to repeal the Stand-Your-Ground law.

Activists organized Florida's Dream Defenders in April 2012 in response to Martin's death. The group is now looking for sponsors for a proposal that would reform the Stand-Your-Ground law and address the issues they believe are the underlying problems in such cases. They ask for three amendments to the current law: the duty to retreat, judicial review, and burden of proof for individuals who claim to use the policy.

"We are looking at this case in a very broad view because it's not just about Jordan Davis. It's not just about Michael Dunn. It's not just about individuals. It's about the systematic oppression of young people of color in the state as a whole," Ciara Taylor, political director for the Dream Defenders, told msnbc.

"It's not that we're against protecting yourself," she added. "But if you are in a position that you feel you are afraid, but you are able to walk away from that situation, you should have a duty to do so.”

Dunn's sentencing for all four charges is scheduled for March 24.