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Bush was participating in a primary series hosted by the Greater Derry Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire when a female attendee asked what he would do about gun proliferation and how he would reduce gun violence. Bush began by repeating an oft-said line, that he reduced gun violence as governor of Florida.
“To this day, we continue to see a dramatic reduction in gun violence because people that commit violence with guns …, ” he began, before the questioner cut him off.
“Trayvon Martin would disagree,” the questioner interrupted.
She continued, amid Bush’s claims that “facts are facts.”
“When you have an asinine law that allows people to shoot other people and go, 'I was afraid of him because, guess what, he was dark,’” she said, referring to George Zimmerman, the then-neighborhood watch captain who shot and killed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in 2012.
The woman was referring to the state’s so-called stand your ground law, which allows Floridians to use deadly force if they feel threatened. Zimmerman's defense considered invoking Stand Your Ground, he was acquitted using a defense of self-defense.
In spite of the controversy surrounding the law, Bush has vehemently defended what's legally defined as justifiable use of force, telling an NRA conference audience, "We were often the model ... because in Florida we protected people's rights to protect themselves."
Bush continued in his defense Tuesday. “The simple fact is gun violence has declined by about 30 percent when we imposed severe penalties for people committing crimes with guns,” he said. “And we're a pro-Second Amendment state and I'm totally proud of that.”
Bush signed the law in 2005. He told a Florida CBS affiliate, "I think it’s a part of a suite of laws that were passed that have reduced gun violence.”
In the years immediately following, incidences of homicide by firearm actually spiked and remained high for the rest of his tenure as governor. While the murder rate (per 100,000 people) was 4.9 in 2005, it jumped to 6.2 in 2006 and to 6.4 in 2007, according to statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Bush's campaign says that overall gun violence did decline in Florida. From 1998 (the year he was elected) to 2006, there was a 20 percent reduction in violent offenses committed with a gun, according to the state.
In short, overall gun violence went down during his tenure. But murders by guns went up after the stand your ground law was passed.
Bush has also been an outspoken opponent of any gun control measures. Tuesday, in the wake of President Obama's announcement of measures that would require almost anyone who sells guns for a living to conduct background checks on clients, Bush predictably slammed the president.
“He doesn’t have the authority to do it,” Bush said of president's executive actions.
Bush said the president’s "first impulse is always to take rights away from law-abiding citizens.” When asked by ABC News how background checks would take away a citizen’s right to bear arms, he continued to condemn the president.
"If someone is selling a gun out of their collection, a one-off gun, they’re not a dealer, which would require a license and already requires that, you’re taking that person’s right away,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to add burdens on people where the problem isn’t -- you’re not solving whatever problem he’s trying to solve.”