Durbin postpones 'stand your ground' gun law hearing after D.C. shooting

Liz Goodwin
Yahoo News

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has postponed a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “stand your ground” self-defense gun laws slated for Tuesday morning in the wake of Monday’s shooting at the nearby Navy Yard complex that’s left at least 13 dead, included the suspected gunman.

The mothers of two slain teens and experts who are both for and against gun control were scheduled to testify about the controversial laws, which sparked a national debate after the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother and a vocal opponent of "stand your ground" laws, was slated to be one of the witnesses at the hearing. 

The hearing has not yet been rescheduled.

Another witness, Lucia McBath — whose unarmed teenage son, Jordan Davis, was killed in Jacksonville, Fla., last year while sitting in his car by a man who claimed to be acting in self-defense — said her flight to Washington was delayed when the Washington airport was temporarily shut down in response to the Navy Yard shooting. McBath and her attorney, John Phillips, told Yahoo News that Monday’s shooting was more proof that Congress needs to pass gun laws.

“I can't even put it into words how bitterly ironic and significant that is that we were all delayed [on our way to a gun-control hearing] because of a shooting in D.C.,” Phillips said.

“There will be more Jordan Davises, there will be more Trayvon Martins, there will be more Navy Yard massacres” unless Congress passes gun laws, McBath said. “It has to stop.”

It's unclear if the man charged with killing McBath's son — Michael Dunn — will use a "stand your ground" defense at his trial.

Civil rights groups have called for national legislation to examine these self-defense laws — which say people who are under threat can use deadly force in public places without first attempting to retreat — to determine whether they unfairly target minorities. More than 20 states have adopted "stand your ground" laws since 2005. Attorney General Eric Holder said in July that the laws “undermine public safety” and cause conflicts to escalate.

Neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was originally not charged with any crime in Martin’s killing in part because the state passed a “stand your ground” law in 2005. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder weeks later and eventually acquitted of any crime in July by a jury that determined he acted in self-defense. Zimmerman did not invoke “stand your ground” in his defense, though two jurors mentioned that it played a part in their eventual decision.

Ilya Shapiro, a fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and another scheduled witness at the hearing, said specific cases such as Martin’s have been used to unnecessarily “inflame passions” on the issue of self-defense laws. “These are unfortunate incidents that I don’t think you can really draw broader public policy lessons from,” Shapiro said. He mentioned research that shows that black defendants in Florida who used the “stand your ground” defense were more likely than whites who invoked it to be acquitted, which suggests the law is not hurting racial minorities. 

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