PHOENIX - Some Arizona lawmakers are willing to take another look at the state's "stand your ground" law in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting and trial in Florida. But they are deeply divided about whether the statute needs revision.
Legislators from both parties said Monday there is nothing wrong with a review of the legislation, adopted in 2010, to see if changes are necessary. The comments came a day after Republican John McCain, the state's senior senator, said lawmakers in his home state and elsewhere should revisit their laws.
At this point, no one from either party is calling for outright repeal, at least in part because there is no evidence anyone accused of killing someone has used the statute as a defense here. But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said he fears it can be abused.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said he's willing to take a second look. He's not convinced, however, that any changes are necessary.
"The 'stand your ground' laws reflect the idea that if you are in a place legally, you have a right to be there, you have a right to defend yourself," Farnsworth said.
"That's a God-given right," he continued. "And there's nothing controversial about that."
Arizona law has long allowed using deadly force in self-defense. But there was a presumption such force had to be immediately necessary, allowing prosecutors to charge someone who did not to retreat from a dangerous situation.
In 2006, state lawmakers said there is no duty to retreat in one's own home. Four years later, that right to stand one's ground and use deadly physical force was extended to any situation where the person has a legal right to be.
House Majority Leader David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said that makes sense.
"Why do I have retreat because someone is aggressing to me?" he asked.
House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said he's willing to consider a second look. But Tobin said concerns about the statute may be misplaced.
While the 2012 shooting of Martin by George Zimmerman brought attention on Florida's version of the law, Zimmerman never raised that as a defense. Instead he argued - and the jury accepted - he was acting in self-defense because Martin was attacking him.
That was also pointed out by Senate Majority Leader John McComish, R-Phoenix.
"That issue only came up peripherally in the press and not in the court," he said. McComish said while it "never hurts" to review any law, "I don't sense there's a will to look at that seriously and change the law."
Gallardo conceded "stand your ground" was not Zimmerman's defense. But he said all the publicity about the Florida law and its Arizona version could lead to trouble.
"My biggest fear is you have folks out there that know what 'stand your ground' is," he said.
"They're going to try to utilize that," Gallardo said. "Where normally they may have turned around and walked away they're going to say, 'No, I'm going to turn around, and I'm going to stand my ground and I'm going to make sure that no one's going to push me around."
Gowan, however, sees the same situation in a different light.
"Why should we always cower down to all these bullies?" he asked. Gowan said the law simply clarifies that people have a right to defend themselves.
Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, said it's not that simple. She said these laws "promote a society of vigilantes running around."
She said testimony showed a 911 operator told Zimmerman not to get out of his car to pursue Martin. Zimmerman told the dispatcher "they always get away."
Landrum Taylor, who is African-American like Martin, said if Arizona keeps the law there should be added protections against what she said in this case was clear racial profiling.
She acknowledged voting for the 2010 legislation that included the "stand your ground" provision. But Landrum Taylor said the measure appears to have gone beyond the original intent of ensuring that people have the right to protect themselves.
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