The Excuse for Killing Trayvon Martin Has Become the Standard of Democracy
Statehouses are supposed to be America's laboratory, but the experiments are rigged. Since when is Stand Your Ground 2.0 the standard of justice?
The Florida House recently passed legislation that would seal the records of anyone who successfully sustains a stand-your-ground defense after a shooting. The proposal would allow a gun-wielding vigilante to escape not just any and all legal complications but also awkward interactions with curious neighbors. So Floridians think a stand-your-ground shooting might be something one would want to hide. Which might finally answer the question: does Florida have any shame?
Some of the state legislators were at least aware of the attention stand-your-ground laws have drawn. As Democratic Rep. Mia Jones explained to her colleagues: "The world is looking at Florida and … we don't look good right now." This is not, perhaps, a persuasive argument in a state that leads the nation in both incidents of human cannibalism and "zombie foreclosures". The so-called “warning-shot” bill passed 93-24.
Shamelessness aside, the renewed passion of Florida politicians for the expansion and protection of this type of loophole – the very kind that let George Zimmerman run free, even if he got off on self-defense – at least raises a different question: Why are those local legislatures passing such embarrassing laws in the first place?
As the nation's statehouses have splintered off from the on-year electorate, states such as Florida (really, especially Florida) serve up the best examples for how our "laboratories of democracy" have become playgrounds for mad scientists – particularly, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. Almost all of Florida's legislative antics (including some off-the-clock holiday jaunts) can be traced back to ALEC, including its original stand-your-ground law. ALEC designs the legislation, compliant legislators cut-and-paste it into law – literally, in the instance of Florida Rep. Rachel Burgin, who forgot to remove ALEC's mission statement from the text of an anti-tax bill she submitted in 2012.
Anyone with even a casual interest in the escapades of "Florida man" and "Florida woman" knows that the state's gun crazy extends beyond the crazy stand-your-ground law to which the death of Trayvon Martin introduced us all. The state has some of the most permissive open-carry and concealed-carry laws in the country (with the added bonus of not running mental health background checks on individuals who apply for the permits!). A bill currently before the Florida Senate (with the backing of the governor and the National Rifle Association) would extend conceal carry privileges to all gun owners "during a mandatory evacuation in a state of emergency". Because we know how even-keeled and slow-to-anger people are during those types of situations. Last fall, Florida attorney general Pam Bondi joined the NRA in a bid to allow 18- and 19-year-olds to purchase handguns. Justin Bieber with a Glock – exactly what Florida needs.
But the gun laws themselves are just the collateral damage of a spun-out legislature that has become one of the most successful case studies for ALEC's push to enact pro-business, pro-conservative legislation across the country. Florida's stand-your-ground law, shepherded by ALEC protégé and then-state senator Marco Rubio, was the first of its kind in the nation. The process became a model not just for the expansion of the so-called "Castle Principle" legislation but for how to pass ALEC-scripted laws in general.
There are 13 ALEC-ordered bills in consideration in Florida right now, one of which would exempt companies from revealing the chemicals used in oil and gas extraction. Last June, Gov Rick Scott signed into law an ALEC bill that blocks local governments from implementing paid sick leave.
Florida is also the epicenter of many of ALEC's other, broader legislative aims, from privatizing prisons and profiting from prison labor (Florida is home to the nation's second-largest private prison firm) to, significantly, legislation sold as "vote fraud protection".
Via voter ID legislation, ALEC insures that the democracy lab experiments are rigged. Jekyll shows up one day, Hyde the next. If we had consistent voter turnout, the government might more closely resembled the governed. Jekyll and Hyde might still both show up, but at least they'd be forced to work together.
Well, that's not quite right, because as it stands, once one of them gets in the lab, he does everything he can to keep the other out. And the Republican Hydes are much, much better at this than the Democrat Jekylls. Indeed, ALEC's minions spend much of their time establishing ways to preserve their control over the lab, rather than making any particular forward progress on other issues: of the 62 "voter ID" bills introduced in state legislatures in 2011 and 2012, over half were written or sponsored by ALEC-associated politicians.
It is telling that of all the measures the Florida House attached to its expanded stand-your-ground law, the most subversive amendment had to do with the power of the pen and not the sword – or gat, as the case may be. Because despite all the damage that guns have done to Florida (and, oh boy: gun injuries in the state are double the national average), it is the pens of Floridian legislators that have made it a model for the worst American democracy has to offer.
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