Mother of Trayvon Martin Tells Senate Panel “Stand Your Ground” Laws Do Not Work and Should be Changed

FILE - In this July 26, 2003 file photo, Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, speaks during the National Urban League's annual conference in Philadelphia. Fulton is expected to tell a Senate panel Tuesday that states must clarify their "stand your ground" self-defense laws. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, told a Senate panel Tuesday that states must clarify their ‘stand your ground’ self-defense laws after the man who fatally shot her son was acquitted of manslaughter. (Matt Rourke/AP)

WASHINGTON — The mother of Travyon Martin, the Florida teen killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, told a Senate panel today that stand your ground self-defense laws should be changed.  Sybrina Fulton offered the tragic case of her son as Exhibit A of why she said such laws do not work.  “He was simply going to the store to get snacks, nothing more, nothing less,” Fulton said of her son, who was shot dead by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., in early 2012.

“He was minding his own business, he was not looking for any kind of trouble, he was not committing any kind of crime.”  She added, “The person who shot and killed my son is walking the streets today. … The Law is not working.”  Martin’s killing ignited a national debate about stand your ground laws and racial profiling. The debate grew even louder after Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.  More than two dozen states have some version of stand your ground laws, which let individuals use lethal force instead of retreating if they feel threatened with death or serious injury in public by another person.

Senate Democrats convened the hearing, which triggered a clash with Republicans on the Judiciary subcommittee who favor stand your ground laws.  Sen. Dick Durban (D-Ill.) cited research that suggests about 600 homicides a year can be traced to such laws, with no apparent impact on overall crime deterrence.  His view that such laws have done little else but accentuate a “shoot first” mentality among citizens was quickly disputed by the firebrand freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Cruz voiced his sympathy with Martin’s mother, but at the same time he said that “no one in this room knows exactly what happened that night.”  He then called “remarkable” Durbin’s statement that no one could reasonably believe that stand your ground laws protect members of the African-Americans from crime.  And he said that Durbin hadn’t mentioned how, in 2004, a then-Illinois state senator, Barack Obama, recommended expansion of such a law in that state.

Cruz dismissed the hearing as the product of Democrats trying to score political points. He said said there’s a difference “between serious efforts to stop violent crime and efforts to advance a political agenda.”

Trayvon Martin was walking to his father's apartment unarmed when he was shot dead after a scuffle with Zimmerman who suspected him as a threat.

He was joined at the hearing by fellow Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, strong gun-rights advocates.  However, the head of a national prosecutors group supported Durbin.  David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, argued that stand your ground laws “provide safe harbors for criminals and prevent prosecutors from bringing cases against those who claim self-defense after unnecessarily killing or injuring others.”

He cited a study that found a majority of criminal defendants who were effectively shielded by such laws “had arrest records prior to the homicide at issue.”  He suggested a variety of reforms, including bringing greater clarity to the laws’ definitions of “unlawful activity.” States have extended such laws’ protections “to people who are in a place where they have a right to be and who are not engaged in an unlawful activity.”

“Therefore, what is lawful and what is unlawful?” LaBahn asked.  “Can a drug dealer defend his open air drug market? If the individual is a felon, does he have a right to kill another with a firearm and claim the stand your ground defense?”  Ilya Shapiro of the libertarian Cato Institute noted how many states had Democratic governors when they passed such laws. He argued that the laws “just protect law-abiding citizens” and don’t increase the likelihood of vigilantes running amok.  He said domestic violence victims are an example of citizens who will be hurt by moves to roll back such laws.

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