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Florida Senate Panel Approves 'Stand Your Ground' Revisions

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Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla.
Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla.

If you hear the pitter patter of tiny feet, it's Florida finally taking baby steps to amend its controversial 'Stand Your Ground' law.

Tuesday a Senate panel voted 7 to 2 approving revisions to the state's self-defense law, which removed the duty to retreat from the "Castle Doctrine," granting residents the right to use deadly force in their home.

And remarkably, one of the most vocal supporters of the revisions came from one of the drafters of the original 2005 law, David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs), who told the panel: "It is an excellent common-sense law, but it is not perfect."

The bill approved Tuesday requires local sheriffs to issue guidelines to neighborhood crime watch programs, particularly that participants are prohibited from pursuing and confronting suspects.

It also further clarifies existing language in 'Stand Your Ground' that individuals acting as aggressors are barred from using the law as a defense, and removes language so that any bystanders injured by 'Stand Your Ground' fire can pursue civil action.

Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale), who co-sponsored the bill, acknowledged the small victory of the panel's approval: “Today was significant that we got something done, that we moved a comma.”

Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach), charged with chairing the House hearing on Stand Your Ground, had previously commented that he wasn't interested in changing "one damn comma" of the law.

Smith has repeatedly tried to revise and repeal the law in past legislative sessions with no success.

Tuesday's bipartisan support is Florida's first step towards fixing the problematic law that has been tied to hundreds of cases involving death or serious injury across the state.

Yet the changes approved Tuesday are a clear response to the George Zimmerman case, in which a neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed an unarmed teen in Sanford, Fla. and was acquitted.

"Even if you think what Mr. Zimmerman did was legal, it's important to show that it wasn't appropriate," Smith said according to the Tampa Bay Times.

There are also House and Senate bills calling for a complete repeal of Stand Your Ground this legislative session.

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