The fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer has put the spotlight on Florida’s “stand your ground” law and other so-called “castle” statutes around the country — especially in states currently considering similar legislation.
At least five state legislatures are weighing stand-your-ground bills like the Florida law that has been cited as the reason George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old volunteer who says he shot the teen in self defense, has not been arrested.
Massachusetts state Sen. Stephen Brewer, a Democrat, told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette this week that his proposed stand-your-ground bill, which has been stalled in the Massachusetts legislature for five years, would protect people who are defending themselves.
“People acting in defense of another shouldn’t have to fear a civil suit. I do believe that people acting to protect other people ought to be protected,” he told the newspaper.
On the other side of the country, an Alaska Democrat, state Rep. Max Gruenburg, said the incident in Florida has him rethinking the legislation that is up for a vote in his state.
Currently, 25 states have some form of the stand-your-ground self-defense laws on the books. They essentially say people don’t have to first retreat from an assailant or attacker.
Supporters of the laws cite cases such as Sarah McKinley, a young Oklahoma widow who killed a knife-wielding man after he broke into her home.
But opponents say the statutes can unfairly allow someone to claim self-defense and get away with murder.
According to a CNN/ORC poll, 73 percent of Americans say Mr. Zimmerman should be arrested, but 55 percent agree with the anti-crime laws.
Mr. Gruenburg initially supported stand-your-ground legislation when it was introduced to the Alaskan Legislature in April. He explained that the Alaskan culture is very different from the East Coast.
But with a final vote on the law coming up, he said his concerns have grown after hearing more about the shooting in Florida.
“I don’t want people to die because of a vote,” he said.
In addition to Massachusetts and Alaska, stand-your-ground laws have been introduced in Iowa, New York and Nebraska.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said this week that the Justice Department needs to look into the constitutionality of stand-your-ground laws around the country.
“The laws all passed very, very quickly, and I think the states who passed them, if they find the real facts, may decide to repeal them,” Mr. Schumer said.