TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nearly 6,600 emails gathered by a task force looking into Florida's self-defense laws have been filled with passionate responses to the Trayvon Martin shooting as well as caustic criticisms of the Republican-controlled state government and of those who called for the arrest of George Zimmerman.
Gov. Rick Scott set up the task force, which will hold its first public hearing Tuesday in central Florida close to where neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed teenager in February. The 28-year-old has been both vilified and defended by people across the nation for his actions.
Zimmerman said after the shooting and since that he acted in self-defense and police in Sanford did not arrest him. But after weeks of protests, he was charged with second-degree murder and is back in jail because a judge revoked his bond. The shooting set off an intense national debate about self-defense laws, race and other matters, which were reflected in many of the emails sent by people from California to New York and the nation's heartland.
Florida passed the "stand your ground law" seven years ago. It allows use of deadly force to prevent "imminent death or great bodily harm," and it removed a person's duty to retreat in the face of such peril that was required in a previous self-defense law. The change was strongly backed by the National Rifle Association.
Many of the emails call on Florida to either keep the law as it is — or to repeal the "stand your ground" part. Those who oppose to the law called Florida a dangerous place to visit.
"Please repeal this terrible law that allows murderers to walk free," wrote Austin Doyle who lives in the Panhandle. "Christians shouldn't be carrying guns everywhere they go."
Micheal Rodney from Venice, Fla., blasted Scott for creating the task force and said it was premature to even look at the state's self-defense laws.
"We are a nation of laws, and the full extent of the law has not been applied in this case, and we do not know what laws, if any, have been broken," Rodney wrote in late April. "...For Governor Scott to have acted in the way he has been portrayed, without any rebuttal on his part, means that I have wasted my previous vote for his election."
W.M. Smith from Monroe County meanwhile urged the task force to "correct insane gun laws."
"My ancestors pioneered central Florida in 1830. They used guns to secure food, not for machismo. Thanks to the gun lobby, the opposite is true today," Smith wrote. "I currently feel far safer in Central America than in my native state."
Some of the emails complained about the racial overtones of Martin's killing that they said had been pushed by the national media. The case has become a racial flashpoint because the Martin family and supporters contend Zimmerman singled out the 17-year-old because he was black.
Roy Callahan of Gainesville sent to the task force a copy of a letter he sent to State Sen. Chris Smith. He sharply criticized the Fort Lauderdale Democrat for complaining that the current law is confusing.
"The only thing 'controversial' and 'confusing' is a Democrat and 'African American' politician using the term 'controversial', and 'confusing' to promote an agenda," wrote Callahan. "If the liberal media, Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson and others of their ilk respected the rule of law the 'confusion on the part of the public, law enforcement, and judicial system' you refer to would not have occurred."
John Smith, who lives in the central Florida retirement community of The Villages, argued that Zimmerman's case was not covered by the "stand your ground" law since he had been following Martin the night of the shooting in the gated community outside Orlando.
"Please leave the law as it is, or at most, better define what 'stand your ground' means," wrote Smith. "I don't think it means you can be following someone on the move, and then when confronted, can use deadly force unless you are prevented from retreating."
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