On Saturday, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis buried their 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis.
That Davis was killed after an exchange about loud music is not in dispute. Neither is the fact that Michael David Dunn, 45, fired eight to nine shots into the red SUV where Davis and three friends were sitting outside a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station, striking Davis twice.
Dunn has been charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the Nov. 23 incident, entered a plea of not guilty and remains in a Florida jail. But in claiming that he fired after seeing, in the words of his lawyer, “four black men” and a shotgun that police never found emerging from one of the vehicle’s rear windows, Dunn has raised the specter of a defense centered around Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law. The policy offers criminal and civil legal protections to individuals who use deadly force to defend themselves if and when they feel threatened. It's at the heart of volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman’s explanation for his decision to shoot another black 17-year-old boy, Trayvon Martin, in February.
That two black boys have been shot and killed in one state in the span of just nine months, by a pair of men who described the unarmed teens as threatening, amounts to more than a geographic coincidence, gun control advocates say. Florida is a virtual laboratory for policies supported by gun-rights activists. Public records indicate that Florida has licensed nearly 1 million people who do not work in law enforcement or security -– more than any other state in the country -– to carry a concealed weapon since its program began in the late 1980s. And thanks to the state’s Stand Your Ground law, many feel legally empowered to use them in a broad and far too nebulous set of circumstances, according to gun control advocates.
“Florida is like the Wild Wild West,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, a gun control organization.
Hours before Ron Davis buried his son, he made a similar point.
“I still believe to this day, unless the gentleman tells me different, that it was anger involved and having the accessibility of a gun,” Davis told CNN.
Neither Davis nor his ex-wife, McBath, could be reached for comment Friday or Saturday. The family’s lawyer told The Huffington Post in an email that both he and the family would remain unavailable until after the burial. Dunn’s attorney also declined a request for comment.
The Violence Policy Center tracks shooting deaths caused by concealed carry permit holders around the country. Between May 2007 and November 2012, 499 people have been killed by permit holders, according to the organization’s database. That figure includes 14 law enforcement officers, 23 people killed during mass shootings and 35 incidents of murder-suicide.
It also includes Jordan Davis and 22 other people killed in Florida, according to the center’s records.
“Jordan Davis’ tragic death is the classic example of the problem with concealed carry,” said Rand. “We have looked at enough of these cases to see this mindset that concealed carry seems to create. You see that pattern over and over and over again -- people get into an altercation over a parking space or just garden-variety disputes that then escalate. Things just get all the more intense when that’s combined with Stand Your Ground.”
Gun-rights advocates say rolling back gun laws like Stand Your Ground and concealed carry would have far-reaching consequences and restrict Americans' Second Amendment rights in ways the framers never intended. They also argue that arming more of the nation’s law-abiding citizens will serve as a powerful deterrent for criminals. A 2004 National Academy of Sciences study found no definitive evidence that increased gun ownership reduces crime.
Like most Southern states, Florida boasts a robust gun culture. In the northern and middle parts of the state, gun collecting, hunting and shooting are cherished pastimes and viewed as rites of passage. Jacksonville investigators have described Dunn as a gun collector.
The last three fiscal years have been the busiest on record for the Florida Department of Agriculture staffers who process concealed carry permits, said Ken Wilkinson, assistant division director for licensing. Both there and across the country, interest in purchasing guns appears to be surging.
“This is not my personal opinion here, but something that I see and hear a lot of," said Wilkinson. “It seems a lot of people think Obama is going to take their guns.”
The FBI received 283,423 background check requests during the three-day weekend after Thanksgiving, part of the process to purchase a gun in most retail stores, said Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for the bureau. That's up from 2011’s record high of 215,192 requests over the same three-day period
On Nov. 23, the day that Davis was killed in Jacksonville, the FBI processed 154,873 background checks submitted by gun sellers across the country, making it the busiest day since the program began in November 1998.
What’s happening in Florida and other parts of the country did not develop organically, Rand said.
In 1987, Florida passed the nation’s first “shall issue” and concealed carry permit laws, giving anyone who can pass a background check and meet other requirements on the state’s two-page application the guaranteed right to bear a secret arm.
Florida charted new territory again in 2005, when it passed the nation’s first Stand Your Ground law. The policy represented a shift away from what had long been a standard of self-defense law: the right to defend oneself from threats in the home. Instead, it freed Florida residents to respond to threats anywhere.
Hammer, who in the 1990s became the first woman appointed president of the National Rifle Association, has spent much of the past three decades building relationships and wrangling with state policymakers in Florida. In 2005, she was inducted into the state's Women's Hall of Fame.
Hammer could not be reached for comment Saturday. A woman who answered the phone at Hammer’s home and identified herself as her daughter said that her mother’s health is failing and she is no longer in a position to grant interviews. The NRA did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Friday and Saturday.
Hammer is said to have provided the language that formed the basis of Florida's Stand Your Ground law, first introduced by state Rep. Dennis Baxley in the House of Representatives. Then-state Sen. Marco Rubio, now a U.S. senator, helped get the bill through Florida's other legislative chamber.
The language Hammer provided for the bill also became part of model legislation suggested to conservative lawmakers in states around the country who are or were members of the American Legislative Council, better known as ALEC. Since 2005, 25 states have joined Florida in passing Stand Your Ground laws. Every state but Illinois now has a concealed carry law on the books.
In August, Hammer told the Tampa Bay Times that the NRA will push for a bill in 2013 allowing gun owners to openly carry their weapons in Florida.
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