Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was not the only prominent Florida official to back Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, despite repeated warnings that it would be seen as a “license to kill” by gunmen like the Sanford, Florida, neighborhood watchman who stands accused of slaying teenager Trayvon Martin.
The rising Republican star of Florida legislature at the time, a young state representative from West Miami who in the next session would become the speaker of the state House, actively supported the “Stand Your Ground” proposal.
That legislator, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, is now being boomed by Jeb Bush for a place on the Republican ticket as the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee.
Rubio served in the legislature as an ally of the National Rifle Association and a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the shadowy group funded by the Koch brothers to craft and promote passage of measures such as the “Stand Your Ground” law. In reviewing Rubio’s tenure, the Miami Herald noted: “Rubio had an ‘A’ rating by the National Rifle Association. Rubio voted for major NRA priorities such as a 2005 ‘castle doctrine’ law allowing people to use deadly force if attacked in their home or any place a person ‘has a right to be.’ Rubio also supported a 2008 law allowing most employees to bring guns to work, as long as they held a concealed weapons license and kept the gun in their cars.”
Two other ALEC members, state Representative Dennis Baxley and state Senator Durell Peadon were the primary sponsors of the “Stand Your Ground” law. Now—as African-American legislators are calling for the repeal of the measure—Florida media outlets report that “Baxley says it is worth revisiting to determine whether the law should be amended.” And Florida Governor Rick Scott, Jeb Bush’s Republican successor, has appointed a task force to consider changes to the “Stand Your Ground” law.
Scott says that, in light of the Trayvon Martin killing, it is necesssary to “thoroughly review Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law and any other laws, rules, regulations or programs that relate to public safety and citizen protection.”
But Rubio—who has felt pressure from the NRA in the past, at rare points where he has tried to balance public safety and gun rights concerns—knows he can’t disappoint the gun lobby if he wants a place on the GOP ticket.
So Rubio is standing firm for the measure that Kendall Coffey, the former US attorney for Southern Florida, calls a “license to kill.” The Tampa Bay Times reports that the senator says it is “too early” to say whether the “Stand Your Ground” law should be repealed or—at the very least—clarified.
Remarkably, Rubio continues to caution against criticism of the law.
“I voted for it and I think there is rational behind it but we have no idea whether that applies at all in this case,” says Rubio. “I think that’s very important to understand.”
It’s not just Jeb Bush who says Marco Rubio should be the Republican nominee for vice president. Rubio’s name tops most lists of prospects for the number-two position on what now looks like a Mitt Romney-led ticket.
Rubio’s feeding the speculation by speeding up the publication schedule for his autobiography, An American Son.
But vice presidential candidates have to answer questions about their records—and about their judgment when it comes to critical questions. One of those questions has to do with whether America wants laws like the “Stand Your Ground” law. According to a 2010 review by the Tampa Bay Times, rates of “justifiable homicide” have tripled since the law passed in 2005. The paper reviewed ninety-three cases of shooting that involved sixty-five deaths; it found that fifty-seven of those cases resulted in no criminal charge or trial and seven others led to acquittal at trial.
There are Florida officials who backed the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, and who still stand strong for gun rights, but who now acknowledged that the law needs to be rewritten or retracted.
Marco Rubio is not one of them. And if he becomes the Republican nominee for vice president he is going to have to explain why he is standing this ground in favor of a law that should never have been enacted—and that should not remain on the books, in Florida or in any other state.