The National Rifle Association's effort to pass Florida-style “Stand Your Ground” laws in other states has continued unabated in the wake of the February 26 death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, who was confronted, shot, and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Since Martin's tragic death, media outlets have noted the role of the state's laws in providing Zimmerman with a legal self-defense claim that may prevent him from ever being successfully prosecuted. According to Mother Jones, Florida courts have found that under that statute, a “defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable” while “the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.”
16 states have reportedly passed similar legislation since Florida's 2005 adoption of the statute, often with the strong support of the NRA. This is no coincidence; the NRA has been affiliated for years with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has pushed model legislation expanding when it is legally permissible to use deadly force through its network of conservative state legislators.
The controversial circumstances of Martin's death have not slowed the NRA's effort to push for the passage of such laws: The organization's lobbying arm spent the weeks following his death promoting similar statutes in Iowa, Alaska, and Minnesota.
- On March 16, the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) criticized the Judiciary Committee chairman of Iowa's state Senate for failing to hold hearings on “NRA-initiated HF 2215, the Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine Enhancement.” According to NRA-ILA, the bill would “remove a person's 'duty to retreat' from an attacker, allowing law-abiding citizens to stand their ground and protect themselves or their family anywhere they are lawfully present.” The group urged supporters to contact state Senators and tell them to support the bill. NRA-ILA previously told supporters to contact Democratic members of the Iowa House after they “left the Capitol building in an attempt to block consideration of these pro-gun bills” on February 29.
- On March 14, NRA-ILA urged Alaskan supporters to contact their state Senators and tell them to support House Bill 80, which it termed “important self-defense legislation that would provide that a law-abiding person, who is justified in using deadly force in self-defense, has 'no duty-to-retreat' from an attack if the person is in any place that that person has a legal right to be.” NRA-ILA also promoted the bill on March 5, March 8, and February 29.
- On March 5, NRA-ILA executive director Chris W. Cox criticized Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton for vetoing House File 1467, which Cox said “would have removed the duty to retreat for crime victims currently mandated under Minnesota state law and precluded victims from facing prosecution for lawfully defending their lives.” NRA-ILA also urged supporters to contact Dayton and urge him not to veto the bill on March 1 and February 29.
The NRA has referred to Florida's statute as “good law, casting a common-sense light onto the debate over the right of self-defense.” The organization is unlikely to be satisfied until that “common-sense light” has been spread across the country, regardless of what tragedies occur in the meantime.