NRA helped spread 'stand your ground' laws across nation

Reply Tue 27 Mar, 2012 10:56 am
I so glad the role the National Rifle Association played in causing this law is finally being exposed. The NRA is responsible for this, and providing guns getting to the Mexican drug cartels. The NRA's goal is to make lots of money for it's investors and to build their power. It's way past time for our government to stop fearing the NPR and doing what is the best thing for the people of America and other countries with gun and drug problems. And OmSigDAVID can go to hell with his usual complaints about NRA posts. BBB

Mar. 26, 2012
NRA helped spread 'stand your ground' laws across nation
Susan Ferriss | Center for Public Integrity

In 2004, the National Rifle Association honored Republican Florida state legislator Dennis Baxley with a plum endorsement: its Defender of Freedom award.

The following year, Baxley, a state representative, worked closely with the NRA to push through Florida's unprecedented "stand your ground" law, which allows citizens to use deadly force if they "reasonably believe" their safety is threatened in public settings.

People no longer would be restrained by a "duty to retreat" from a threat while out in public, and they'd be free from prosecution or civil liability if they acted in self-defense.

Florida's law is now under a cloud as a result of the controversial February shooting of Trayvon Martin, 17, in Sanford, Fla. The 28-year-old shooter, George Zimmerman, who was licensed to carry a gun, said he acted in self-defense after a confrontation with Martin, and some legal experts say Florida's law could protect Zimmerman, who hasn't been charged. Baxley, whose state party has benefited from large NRA donations, contends that his law shouldn't shield Zimmerman at all, because he pursued Martin.

The NRA has been quiet on the matter since the shooting as the nation takes stock — in light of the Martin case and similar examples — of whether "stand your ground" laws are more dangerous than useful to public safety. The gun-rights organization didn't respond to requests for comment. But its silence contrasts with its history of activism on stand-your-ground legislation. Since the Florida measure passed, the NRA has flexed its considerable muscle and played a crucial role in the passage of more than 20 similar laws nationwide.

The Florida law is rooted in the centuries-old English common-law concept known as the "Castle Doctrine," which holds that the right of self-defense is accepted in one's home. But the Florida law and others like it expand that established right to venues beyond a home.

Since Florida adopted its law, the NRA has aggressively pursued stand-your-ground laws elsewhere as part of a broader agenda to increase gun-carrying rights it believes that citizens are rightly due under the Second Amendment.

To gain attention and clout at the state level, the NRA gives money and offers endorsements to legislators from both parties. The NRA and the NRA Political Victory Fund, its political action committee, have donated about $2.6 million to state political campaigns, committees and individual politicians since 2003, according to records compiled by the nonprofit National Institute on Money in State Politics.

And ambitious politicians take note that the NRA is heavily invested and involved in congressional races.

Following the Florida victory, the "Stand Your Ground" movement accelerated. In July 2006, the NRA posted celebratory news on its website, noting that legislators in eight more states — Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Dakota — already had followed Florida's lead.

"This train keeps a rollin' — Castle Doctrine Sweeps America," the NRA's 2006 message said. The campaign, the group said, "is turning focus from criminals' rights to those of the law-abiding who are forced to protect themselves."

Since then, a host of other states have passed various laws expanding the Castle Doctrine. Among them: Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.

To spread the word, the NRA said in an Aug. 12, 2005, website posting, it approached the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts legislation for like-minded state lawmakers. The council adopted model stand-your-ground legislative language in 2005 after Florida's top NRA representative made a presentation.

Along the way, key lawmakers benefited from NRA support. In Indiana, for instance, GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels, who took office in 2005, received $12,400 in NRA donations from 2004 to 2008. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue got $7,500 from the group from 2004 to 2006. Mark Shurtleff, Utah's attorney general, received $22,500 from 2004 to 2008.

But it hasn't been smooth sailing quite everywhere. An emotional debate in Minnesota this year resulted in passage of a proposal in both houses, which are GOP-controlled, but a veto this month from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. A couple of GOP lawmakers changed their votes from no to yes in the course of the legislative process, state records show.

"We had a few people tell us apologetically and privately that they were afraid of the NRA," said Joan Peterson, a Minnesota activist with the Northland chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Proponents didn't get enough votes to override Dayton's veto.

Opposition to the laws has gone beyond gun-control activists. Some of the staunchest critics the NRA has faced while promoting "stand your ground" laws have been state police chief's and sheriffs' associations and district attorneys' groups.

In 2007, the Virginia-based National District Attorneys Association issued a report, "Expansions to the Castle Doctrine," warning that the phenomenon "could have significant implications for public safety and the justice system's ability to hold people accountable for violent acts."

Scott Burns, the association's executive director, said legislators' decisions to buck law-enforcement officials on this issue could be explained only by "the volatile issue of guns rights and the Second Amendment." He said that many of these laws, in his opinion, had nothing to do with the true intent of the Castle Doctrine.

How can the Castle Doctrine apply, he said, seven miles from your home, at a shopping mall?

In Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported that "justifiable homicides" in Florida spiked after the 2005 law, from an average of 34 yearly to more than 100 in 2007.

Prosecutors said the law permitted gang-related assailants from being prosecuted after a 2008 shootout in Tallahassee that killed a 15-year-old boy, the paper reported. A judge dismissed charges based on the "stand your ground" defense.

In 2010, Trevor Dooley, upset about a skateboarder on a Valrico, Fla., basketball court, marched into a park with a handgun, for which he was licensed and legally able to take into the park. Dooley ended up in a confrontation with David James, who was in the park with his young daughter. Dooley and James scuffled, and Dooley shot James dead. In a case that's still pending, Dooley was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter but he claims he's protected by the "stand your ground" law.

Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, accuses the NRA of "feeding on fear and paranoia" to expand concepts such as the Castle Doctrine. His group's research, he said, shows that politicians can survive without an NRA stamp of approval better than they think, and that his priority is to convince more politicians that the group is a "paper tiger."

"We are behind closed doors with politicians all the time," Gross said, "who say they want to do the right thing, but that the gun lobby will ruin them."

Back in Florida, the soul-searching about the law has extended to the legislature. Baxley, its sponsor, told CBS News that "sometimes the application or interpretation of its use is the problem." He defended the law as important to "law-abiding citizens," but suggested, according to other reports, that perhaps legislators should look at limiting crime-watch volunteers' ability to pursue people and confront them.

"Nothing," he said, "is ever finished in the legislature."

(The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit organization focused on investigative journalism.)
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Reply Tue 3 Apr, 2012 10:39 am
Apr. 03, 2012
Florida is fertile ground for pro-gun laws
Toluse Olorunnipa | McClatchy Newspapers

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., brought an avalanche of criticism directed at Florida's Stand Your Ground law.

Yet the controversial 2005 law was just one of dozens of pro-gun laws that have gotten their start in Florida - forging the state's "Gunshine" reputation - before spreading to other parts of the country.

Lobbying for passage of such laws has been the powerful National Rifle Association.

"The NRA has been a victim of their own success," said Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach attorney who fought many of the gun expansion laws as a legislator in the 2000s. "They've won every big issue, so they're left trying to fight over fringe issues. Lots of elected officials are afraid to cross them."

The Stand Your Ground law - at the center of police's decision not to arrest shooter George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case - has become one of state's most severely criticized statutes, in the wake of national protests over Trayvon's death on Feb. 26. Newspaper editorial boards, cable news anchors, police detectives and politicians across the country have lambasted Florida for its law, which has since spread to 24 other states.

Gov. Rick Scott is creating a task force to take a second look at the law, which allows people who feel threatened to use deadly force. "Anytime there's a tragedy like this, we're going to look at things," he said in an interview.

From bring-your-guns-to-work laws to all-out bans on local gun restrictions, Florida has become a haven for Second Amendment enthusiasts. Statistics show the pro-gun agenda has triggered more gun sales, more permits and a sharp rise in justifiable homicides.

-Florida has about 900,000 licensed concealed weapons carriers, far more than any other state and nearly twice as many as Texas.

-The number of annual applications for concealed gun licenses has grown from 26,800 to 123,000 since 1998. (February was a record month for application requests, with 53,835.)

-The number of "justifiable homicides" - typically shooting deaths deemed legal under Stand Your Ground - has tripled in the last seven years.

A representative for the NRA, which has given millions of dollars in political donations, did not respond to requests for comment. Florida's top NRA lobbyist, Marion Hammer, declined to comment, citing "media bias and slant" against gun rights.

To be sure, even as gun rights and ownership have expanded, most of the tragic scenarios predicted by opponents of gun rights have not played out. However, murders by firearm have increased 45 percent since 1999, despite an overall drop-off in violent crime, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Police reports show that Zimmerman used a Kel Tec 9 mm gun in the Feb. 26 Trayvon shooting. Manufactured by Florida-based manufacturer Kel Tec CNC, the semiautomatic weapon is a popular choice for gun owners, selling for about $350.

Zimmerman was licensed to have the gun despite a prior arrest for assault on a law enforcement officer and domestic battery complaints. Unlike states that allow police to deny license applications based on personal character and arrest history, Florida is a place where almost anyone who hasn't been convicted of a violent crime can qualify for a concealed weapons license.

In 1987, Florida became the nation's first so-called "shall issue" state, creating a model for 36 states that now require police to license all eligible applicants for concealed carry permits.

The "shall issue" law - and the controversial Stand Your Ground law - are among several gun rights provisions first passed in Florida and then approved in other states. These laws have made it easier to obtain firearms and carry them into more and more places.

The NRA was behind a 2008 law that allows employees to bring guns to work, so long as they're locked in the car. Several businesses, like the politically well-connected Disney, have long held a "no-guns-at-work" policy for employees. Business groups predicted the law would lead to an increase in workplace massacres and sued to block it. The bill passed the House 74-42, beat the lawsuit, and has not yet bred an "I-told-you-so" tragedy.

In 2009 and 2010, lawmakers passed "gag order" laws, forbidding doctors and adoption agencies from questioning patients or prospective parents about their gun ownership. Doctors are fighting the NRA-backed law in court.

Even those who don't live in the state are benefiting from Florida's gun rights expansions. Florida is one of only two states that allow non-residents to obtain mail-order gun licenses.

In general, attempts to crack down on gun ownership have floundered in the Republican-controlled Legislature, although lawmakers have increased penalties for gun-toting criminals.

Penalties have also increased for anyone who offends the rights of gun owners. Several gun rights bills are laced with punitive language and strict penalties. Under the so-called "docs-vs.-glocks" gag order law, doctors who ask their patients if they own a gun could lose their license to practice medicine.

County commissioners that try to regulate gun use could be personally fined $5,000 or removed from office by the governor.

Municipalities that keep records of gun owners can be fined up to $5 million. Florida statutes require state attorneys to take up the case of offended gun owners, and to "vigorously prosecute violators," invoking language normally reserved for child sex offenders and violent criminals.

Potential penalties for crossing gun owners also came into play in the Trayvon Martin case, where police opted not to arrest Zimmerman. A police department can be sued if it arrests someone who is later found to be innocent under the Stand Your Ground law.

Sanford city manager Norton Bonaparte said in a statement that Florida statutes prohibited police from making a lawful arrest on the night Trayvon was killed. Bonaparte pointed to the Stand Your Ground law, mentioning that the city could have been "held liable" if Zimmerman was later found innocent.

In a 2005 floor debate in the Florida House, Gelber predicted the Stand Your Ground law would tie the hands of police officers and prevent them from making arrests. The bill passed on a bipartisan 94-20 vote.

"This was a policy whose unintended consequence were very predictable," said Gelber, the former state lawmaker. "Now, we're stuck with the eyes of the world on us for a bad reason."


SB 436: (2005) Stand Your Ground law allows people who feel they are in grave danger to use deadly force to protect themselves

HB 687: (2006) Gives public records exemption to concealed carry weapon license holders, allowing people to own guns anonymously

HB 503: (2008) Allows gun owners to bring a firearm to work, as long as it is locked inside a car

SB 948: (2008) Increases time-length of concealed gun license from five to seven years

HB 315: (2010) Prohibits adoption agencies from requiring prospective adoptive parents to disclose information about gun ownership

HB 155: (2011) Prohibits medical practitioners from asking patients about whether or not they own a gun

HB 5601: (2012) Reduces the maximum fees for concealed weapons license from $85 to $70

CS/HB 463: (2012) Allows people under the age of 21 to obtain a gun license if they have military experience

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