WASHINGTON — Trayvon Martin’s mother told a panel of senators Tuesday that state “stand your ground” self-defense laws do not work and must be amended, reviving the politically charged gun control issue a year ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.
But little besides politics emerged from the session, held in the Senate’s made-for-television hearing room. Democrats who hold majority power in the Senate and are trying to keep it supported Sybrina Fulton’s call.
“This law is an invitation for confrontation,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who chaired the session.
Republicans, led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, said the matter should be left to the states that passed the laws.
“The states are doing quite well ... without our interference,” Rep. Louie Gohmert testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Said Cruz: “This is not about politicking. This is not about inflaming racial tensions. This is about the right of everyone to protect themselves and protect their families.” Cruz made reference to statistics which, he said, show that blacks invoked stand your ground defense in prosecutions at least as often as whites.
Race and politics were unmistakably woven into the event and in the broader public policy debate. There’s little willingness in Congress to weigh in on the laws of at least 23 states that have some form of the policy. These laws generally cancel a person’s duty to retreat in the face of a serious physical attack.
Members of Congress are busily engaged in their re-election efforts for next year’s midterms, with 35 seats at stake in the Senate, all 435 seats in the GOP-controlled House and the majorities of both chambers hanging in the balance. Gun control is a politically divisive issue, more so in the wake of mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., the Washington Navy Yard and more.
The 2012 shooting death of Martin, 17 and unarmed, and the acquittal this year of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman stirred racial tensions and sparked debate over stand your ground laws in Florida and at least 21 other states.
Martin’s mother told the panel that she attended the hearing so senators can “at least put a face with what has happened with this tragedy.”
“I just wanted to come here to ... let you know how important it is that we amend this stand your ground because it certainly did not work in my case,” Fulton said, speaking without consulting prepared remarks. “The person that shot and killed my son is walking the streets today. This law does not work.”
Lucia Holman McBath, the mother of Jordan Russell Davis, implored the Senate to resolve the nation’s debate. Her 17-year-old son was shot and killed nearly a year ago when Michael David Dunn, 46, allegedly opened fire on a Dodge Durango with four teenagers inside after complaining of their loud music and saying he saw a gun and thus a threat. Jordan had been inside. Authorities never found a gun in the vehicle, the Florida Times-Union reported. Dunn’s trial is set for next year.
“You can lift this nation from its internal battle in which guns rule over right,” McBath told the panel.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 22 states have laws that allow that “there is no duty to retreat (from) an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present.” The states are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia, according to the NCSL.
Alaska also passed a stand your ground law this year, which makes clear a person has no duty to retreat if he or she is in a place legally.
At least nine of those state laws include language stating one may “stand his or her ground”: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, according to the NCSL.