TALLAHASSEE — Think what you will about the protesters outside Gov. Rick Scott's office who want Florida lawmakers to address their long list of grievances: from racial profiling and voter disenfranchisement to "stand your ground."
When state policymakers had a chance to do something about the controversial so-called "shoot first" law last spring, they chose to stand their own ground.
And that could make some marginal difference when it comes to voter mobilization for the 2014 gubernatorial, congressional and legislative elections. Polls show the law is supported by a thin majority of Floridians but not Democrats, and opposition is likely to be especially sharp among minorities.
Most voters don't cast ballots unless they perceive that the payoff outweighs the cost. Politicians need motivational tools to push their voters to the polls. And the fact is, Republicans have handed Democrats one by declining to take any action at all.
In last spring's legislative session, Democratic lawmakers filed bills to repeal Florida's first-of-its-kind "stand your ground" law, enacted in 2005 to shield people from prosecution if they use deadly force because they feared imminent death or great bodily injury.
And Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican who helped carry the original bill in 2005, filed his own revisions based on a task force's recommendations, which would have precluded Neighborhood Watch volunteers from confronting suspects.
Although Zimmerman's defense team didn't use the law as a defense at trial, it figured in instructions to the jury and has become a wedge issue that liberals and civil-rights activists can use in 2014.
Right now, Florida's political leadership — including Scott, who said he still supports the law — is asserting a political-might-makes-right defense, which never plays well with an angry crowd.
"I can sympathize greatly with those who are frustrated with the verdict in Sanford," Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said last week.
"In our system, a verdict is not then referred to as a referendum of the people who are interested in an issue or are passionate about an issue. A verdict is a verdict."
Gaetz went on to say that people upset with the law could try to throw out the current crop of politicians next year if they wanted a policy change.
"Right now, this state is in need of a statesman, and we don't have that," said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, whose bill repealing the law was never heard in a committee last spring.
"The world is watching Florida," he added. "We were the first to implement a 'stand your ground' law. We should be the first to go back and repeal or reform it."
Williams pointed to House Speaker Will Weatherford, a new, young star in Republican politics, as someone who could provide that leadership by forging a middle ground in the debate.
Weatherford has asked a House subcommittee to review the law this fall. He said he'd like to see some evidence from law enforcement about the perception that it has been unevenly applied across local jurisdictions.
"My issue isn't with the law; it's with the possible misapplication of the law," Weatherford said in a statement. "As with any issue, I am open to listening. But I will oppose any effort that will weaken our citizens' ability to protect themselves."
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