FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – Florida Governor Rick Scott signed amended “stand your ground” legislation on Friday, making it easier for defendants in the state to successfully claim they were protecting themselves when they commit violence.
Previously, the law required defendants to prove that they were using force in self-defense. The new law shifts the burden of proof in pretrial hearings to prosecutors, rather than defendants, to prove whether force was used lawfully.
Supporters of stand your ground laws, including the National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, see the legislation as bolstering civilians’ right to protect themselves.
Florida’s self-defense law was initially passed in 2005, and inspired similar laws in other states. It removes the legal responsibility to retreat from a dangerous situation and allows the use of deadly force when a person feels greatly threatened.
Opponents have said the amended law will embolden gun owners to shoot first, citing the 2012 death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in the Orlando area, which spurred national protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The neighborhood watchman who killed him, George Zimmerman, was acquitted of murder after the state’s stand your ground law was included in jury instructions.
Scott, a Republican, signed the amended legislation into law along with a spate of other measures passed this week in a special session of the state’s legislature. The measure was largely passed by party-line vote in the legislature.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Patrick Enright and Lisa Shumaker)