Two mothers of gun violence victims pleaded with lawmakers on a Senate panel Tuesday to amend controversial "Stand Your Ground" gun laws across the country.
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, and Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, provided emotional testimonies at a hearing that examined the self-defense laws adoped by at least 22 states and told the panel how their unarmed sons were shot and killed by men who were protected by those laws.
"What kind of message are we sending if our kids in our communities don’t feel safe?" asked Fulton in her prepared remarks. "Don’t feel safe simply walking to the store to get candy and a drink. The person that shot and killed my son is walking the streets today. And this law does not work. We need to seriously take a look at this law."
McBath, another Florida mother who lost her 17-year-old son Jordan in 2012. He was shot and killed by Michael Dunn in a Jacksonville parking lot. Dunn said he acted in self-defense when he fired eight or nine bullets at Davis and his three other unarmed teenage friends inside their vehicle. Dunn claimed the music playing inside the teenagers' vehicle was too loud and a verbal altercation took place before he took out his gun.
In her testimony, McBath pleaded with lawmakers to re-examine the laws that defend gun owners' rights but do nothing to protect the victims at the other end of a barrel.
"The man who killed him opened fire on four unarmed teenagers," said McBath, also the spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. "Even as they tried to move out of harm’s way, that man was empowered by the Stand Your Ground statute. I am here to tell you that there was no ground to stand. There was no threat. No one was trying to invade his home, his vehicle nor threatened him or his family."
"Now I face the very real possibility that my son’s killer will walk free. Hiding behind a statute that lets people claim a threat where there was none. This law declares open season on anyone we don’t trust for reasons that we don’t even have to understand. They don’t even have to be true. In essence, it allows any armed citizen to self-deputize themselves and establish their own definition of law and order. It lets one and all define their own criteria for right and wrong, and how justice will be carried out," she said.
Senate committee chairman Dick Durbin led the inquiry, along with Sen. Ted Cruz, the ranking member of the subcommittee. Both senators thanked the mothers for sharing their testimonies and extended their sympathies to the victims' families.
Cruz weighed in on the acquittal of the George Zimmerman v. Florida case and clarified that Zimmerman did not raise the Stand Your Ground laws in his defense. "Sadly, we know that some in our political process have a desire to exploit that tragic violent incident for agendas that have nothing to do with that young man who lost his life," Cruz said. "This entire hearing, the topic of this hearing, is not the issue in which that trial turned."
Cruz also accused Durbin of "enflaming racial tensions that I think are sad and irresponsible."
"The chairman of this committee made a remarkable statement to the effect that no one could reasonably believe that "Stand your ground" laws protect those in the African-American communities who are victims of violent crime," said the Texas conservative. "A great many African-Americans find themselves victims of violent crime and have asserted this defense to defend themselves, defend their families, and defend their childrnen."
Cruz later brought up how in 2004, then-Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama co-sponsored an expansion of Illinois' law that provided civil immunity for those who use justifiable force to defend themselves.
"The notion that Stand Your Ground laws are some some form of veiled racism maybe a convenient political attack but it is not born out of the facts remotely," Cruz said.
Self defense laws in at least 22 states – Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee West Virginia and Wisconsin – provide civil immunity under certain self defense circumstances, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida was the first state to pass the “Stand your ground” laws in 2005.
"I never got to take his prom picture or see him graduate from high school. I can tell you all about him, about his easy smile, his first girlfriend, and his plans to join the Marines, I can tell you how he loved his father's gumbo and how they both rooted for the New York Giants. But you can never know my boy because an angry man who owned a gun kept it close at hand and chose to demonstrate unbridled hatred one balmy evening for reasons I will never understand," McBath said, after choking back stifled tears.