You can't say we weren't warned.
Back in 2005, opponents of Florida's first-of-its-kind "stand your ground" law said it wouldn't be long before we'd see shootouts in the streets — all in the name of self-defense.
Arguments over something as trivial as exceeding the 10-item limit in a grocery store's express lane could escalate to deadly violence.
Prodded by their NRA masters, lawmakers waved off those predictions as exaggerations. Then they overwhelmingly passed a bill that took the "castle doctrine" to infinity and beyond. The "castle doctrine" used to mean you could use deadly force if someone attacked you in your home. "Stand your ground" not only absolved the homeowner of any obligation to retreat, it extended that concept outside the home.
Gov. Jeb Bush couldn't sign the bill fast enough.
Seven years later, those warnings so casually dismissed by Bush and the Legislature are taking shape.
Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin is dead, and Central Florida is the focus of an international spectacle, quite possibly a result of Florida's politicians deciding to become the 21st century's Wild West.
Unfortunately, Trayvon may not be the only victim.
I haven't heard of any fatal disputes over the grocery check-out line, but in 2010 an unarmed man was shot and killed at a park near Tampa in a dispute over skateboarding rules. The victim's 10-year-old daughter watched her father die. A judge is currently considering whether the shooter merely stood his ground.
In 2008, a 15-year-old boy was killed during a shootout between two gangs in Tallahassee. Nobody was held accountable for the crime because a judge, citing the law, dismissed the charges.
And in January, a former Broward County sheriff's deputy shot and wounded a homeless man inside a Häagen-Dazs ice cream shop in Miami Lakes. He said the man was threatening him and his family. Police said charges were unlikely in that case as well.
In fact, the number of justifiable homicides has significantly increased since the law went into effect, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
From 2000 to 2005, an average of 13 killings by private citizens were deemed justified each year. Between 2006 and 2010 that average increased to 36 killings per year. The highest was in 2009 at 45.
Today, the Seminole County State Attorney's Office is reviewing whether George Zimmerman, 28, should join the growing list of justifiable homicides.
It makes the Brady Campaign's ads against this law back in 2005 almost seem prophetic. The campaign handed out leaflets and posted billboards warning Florida tourists to avoid fights and to "keep their hands in plain sight" if they wind up in a disagreement.
Sound advice, given the number of cases where "stand your ground" prevails.
Not that any of this mattered to lawmakers seven years ago when I was covering this story in Tallahassee. At the behest of the all-powerful National Rifle Association, they decided law-abiding people were facing criminal prosecution for nothing more than defending themselves or their families.
Turns out the NRA's best examples of these unjust cases were ones in which the charges were eventually dropped. I'd call those examples of the system working, not a chronic injustice that needed to be repaired through legislation.
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer wouldn't comment about the Trayvon Martin case when I talked to her Monday. I don't blame her. There is no good way for gun proponents to spin the death of an unarmed teenager.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who sponsored the original bill, said the law is still "good public policy" but questioned whether it should apply to Zimmerman.
"I think the fact that he was in pursuit does greatly compromise his argument" of self-defense, Baxley said.
Yet the law — at least so far — is what has kept Zimmerman out of jail.
Self-defense has always been an acceptable reason for police and prosecutors to dismiss charges or not bring any in the first place. Nobody wants to see someone who was genuinely in fear for their life end up in jail because they took action to protect themselves or others.
But there's too much latitude when those who are the aggressors are able to shoot, kill and avoid arrest and prosecution.
We don't know — and perhaps never will — who started the fight between Zimmerman and Trayvon.
What we do know is that while Florida's an East Coast state, it's looking more and more like a Wild West.
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