On the same day that a 19-member task force held its first meeting to review Florida's Stand Your Ground law, a father/son duo in the state Legislature published an opinion piece in a local newspaper insisting that calling for a repeal of the controversial self-defense law is anti-women.
The task force was created by Gov. Rick Scott to review Florida's Justifiable Use of Force statute, which includes the 2005 Stand Your Ground law. The provision, which justifies the use of lethal force without a duty to retreat if someone believes it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm, has received national attention following the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February.
In their letter to the Florida News-Herald, state Sen. Don Gaetz and his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, both Republicans, argue the media and anti-gun groups have twisted the stand your ground law to equate it with murder, when it in fact empowers the victims of potential criminal attack.
Consider an elderly woman in a dimly lit parking lot or a college girl walking to her dorm at night. If either was attacked, her duty was to turn her back and try to flee, probably be overcome and raped or killed. Prior to 'Stand Your Ground,' that victim didn't have the choice to defend herself, to meet force with force, reads the letter, which was also distributed by the National Rifle Association. Calls to repeal Stand Your Ground are anti-women. Imposing a duty-to-flee places the safety of the rapist above a woman's own life.
Despite the Gaetz's emotionally charged argument, there is a debate over whether the self-defense law can actually protect women against one of the most prevalent crimes affecting them: domestic violence. Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade County's state attorney, told The Miami Herald on Tuesday that Stand Your Ground has been used as a defense in hundreds of cases, often with very little consistency in application. While some have attempted to apply it to domestic violence cases, those defenses have been unsuccessful.
That has been highlighted by the case of Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three who was charged with three counts of aggravated assault last year after firing a legally registered gun at a ceiling while attempting to escape from her abusive husband. Her husband, believing her to be unfaithful, had reportedly strangled her and threatened to kill her.
Despite the fact that Alexander's now ex-husband had previously been arrested for domestic violence and even admitted in a deposition that he was beating her on the night of the incident in question, a judge rejected the defense's motion for dismissal under Stand Your Ground.
This is my life I'm fighting for, Alexander told CNN in April. If you do everything to get on the right side of the law, and it is a law that does not apply to you, where do you go from there?
Alexander, who is awaiting sentencing in the case, could spend up to 20 years in a Florida prison.
Seventy-six percent of women who are the victims of rape or a physical assault are injured at the hands of a spouse or intimate partner, according to the Domestic Violence Resource Center. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that about one-third of female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner.
While the Gaetz's may truly believe there is a well orchestrated, well-financed attack on the Second Amendment as a result of the spotlight placed on Stand Your Ground laws, the facts do not indicate that it has, up to this point, been a particularly beneficial law for women.
The Florida task force plans to hold monthly meetings across the state to hear public testimony regarding Stand Your Ground from state residents and legal experts. The group aims to issue recommendations to the state Legislature on the issue by its next session.