The sponsor of “stand your ground” legislation in Iowa says he intends to push the self-defense gun bill again next year even in light of the national debate spawned by the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Florida is among 21 states with “stand your ground” laws that give people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight, regardless of whether the action takes place in one’s home or on the street.
Iowa has a “castle law,” in which the use of deadly force in self-defense is restricted to one’s home.
In the Florida case, George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain, claimed he was attacked by Martin on Feb. 26 and shot him to death in self defense. Martin wasn’t armed.
Martin’s death refocused attention on this year’s efforts by Republicans in the Iowa House to pass legislation very similar to the Florida law.
“If I am fortunate enough to be re-elected next year, I will be proposing similar legislation, probably identical legislation to what we passed over to the Senate,” said Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, who sponsored and floor managed the House bill.
A largely party-line vote sent “stand your ground” and another gun rights bill to the Senate, but both bills died there.
“I understand it’s a tragic case that happened in Florida,” Windschitl said. “The only two people who were there were the victim and the man who defended himself. Nobody can tell you what happened besides those people.
“ I think Iowans have a right to defend themselves where they have a right to be present. To require an Iowan to retreat when they feel threatened, I think, that’s an asinine proposal.”
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that killed the House bills, said he doubts the Florida case will change anybody’s mind on the merits of “stand your ground” but “it might grab the attention of people who haven’t been following it or haven’t formed an opinion.”
He said Iowa law already allows people to protect themselves when they are at their homes and places of business. It also provides for self-defense of the individual and others.
Hogg said shortly after the Martin case made national news, he got an email from his county sheriff, Brian Gardner of Linn County. Gardner and the Sheriff’s Association have advocated against “stand your ground.”
“This is a classic example of what we are concerned about,” Gardner said in a phone conversation Thursday. “There’s no provision in the law that requires someone to de-escalate a situation. That’s the problem.”
Iowa Firearms Coalition spokesman Jeff Burkett said Friday his organization and the National Rifle Association have lobbied strongly for “stand your ground” laws in Iowa.
“Our intent isn’t to protect criminals,” Burkett said. “Quite the opposite. Right now in Iowa, if you use a firearm to defend yourself, you’re treated more like a criminal than a victim. We’re trying to pass legislation to protect victims trying to protect themselves.”
Burkett doesn’t think the Florida case ultimately will derail efforts to pass the law in Iowa. “We feel confident the legislation honors Iowans,” he said.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is speaking out against “stand your ground” laws in light of Martin’s death.
“It’s literally playing vigilante,” the organization’s spokesman, Ladd Everitt, said Friday. “The law is unbelievably radical and dangerous.
“It removes the duty an individual has to retreat from a conflict if they can do so safely.”
He said there are more cases than the one in Florida in which “fistfights turn lethal.”
He’s also skeptical about states wanting to pass “stand your ground” laws, saying it’s more about selling guns than safety.
Everitt also called into question states like Iowa and Florida that have changed concealed carry laws from “may issue” to “shall issue,” giving sheriffs less discretion in issuing permits.
The Associated Press has reported that Zimmerman had prior brushes with the law, including an arrest in 2005 after he shoved a law enforcement agent.
Everitt said Zimmerman still was able to get a concealed carry permit under Florida’s laws.
“I find this disturbing,” Everitt said. “Police are now forced to issue permits.”
Iowa changed its concealed carry law last year from “may issue” to “shall issue.”