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March 18, 2012

Florida’s “Shoot First” Law: How George Zimmerman Claims Self-Defense

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Written by: Kelly Virella
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George Zimmerman. Several accused murderers have successfully used Florida’s 2005 ‘Stand Your Ground’ law to prove they were the

Read more articles from our Trayvon Martin Watch.


s the investigation of Trayvon Martin’s killing continues, one of the biggest unanswered questions has been what Florida law is the basis for the police department’s decision not to arrest the man who confessed to Martin’s killing, George Zimmerman.

A blog post shared with us on Twitter yesterday by the Coalition To Stop  Gun Violence sheds some light on this subject. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

The reluctance of the Sanford Police Department to arrest Zimmerman probably has something to do with Florida’s outrageous “Stand Your Ground” law. The law removes the duty of individuals to retreat from a confrontation and allows them to use deadly force if they reasonably believe that it is necessary to prevent death or “great bodily harm.” “Stand Your Ground” legislation was enacted in 2005 after being championed in the Florida state legislature by National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer. In support of the law, Hammer said, “Through time, in this country, what I like to call bleeding heart criminal coddlers want you to give a criminal an even break, so that when you’re attacked, you’re supposed to turn around and run, rather than standing your ground and protecting yourself and your family and your property.” But critics in Florida’s legal community dubbed it the “Shoot First” law and said that it “encourages people to stand their ground … when they could just as easily walk away.” It has also been pointed out that the law “give[s] citizens more rights to use deadly force than we give police officers, and with less review.” A report by the South Florida Sun Sentinel vindicated these complaints, concluding, “several…accused murderers have successfully used [Florida’s] 2005 ‘Stand Your Ground’ law to prove they were the real victims.”

Since 2005, Florida has had more than 344 justifiable murders under their “Shoot First” law, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Here are three cases in which the “Shoot First” law exonerated defendants, as described by the South Florida Sun Sentinel:

  • In May 2010, a judge dismissed murder charges against two black Tallahassee men accused of killing a teen, sparking outrage among state prosecutors, who have since called for the law to be repealed.
  • In May 2010, a Palm Beach County jury acquitted Timothy McTigue of second-degree murder in the death of Michael Palmer, 23. The two got into a fight in Riviera Beach and McTigue shot Palmer in the back of the head as Palmer got out of the water near a floating dock.
  • In 2007, a jury acquitted Norman Borden of murder when he shot and killed two men who threatened him as he walked his four dogs near his home in West Palm Beach.

This law and its effect on criminal justice in Florida are shocking. According to the Tampa Bay Times:

The 2005 law gives you the right to protect yourself in a park, outside a Chili’s, on a highway — just about anywhere.

You need only to “reasonably believe” that pulling the trigger or plunging the knife or swinging the bat is necessary to stop the other person from hurting you.

What’s more, the paper found:

Reports of justifiable homicides tripled after the law went into effect, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Last year, twice a week, on average, someone’s killing was considered warranted.

The self-defense law — known as “stand your ground” — has been invoked in at least 93 cases with 65 deaths, a St. Petersburg Times review found.

In the majority of the cases, the person’s use of force was excused by prosecutors and the courts.

The Sun Sentinel adds:

The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association unsuccessfully fought passage of the law, saying it would turn Florida into the Wild West. A jury should have the final say about whether force was justified, they argued.

At least 14 other states — including Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky — have passed similar laws since Florida’s went on the books.

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About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


Official portrait from his tenure as US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.