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'Stand Your Ground' Hearing Meant to Spark Debate, Not Federal Legislation

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Durbin is chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which will evaluate controversial self-defense laws that are now on the books in at least 22 states.

A Senate hearing Tuesday on state “stand your ground” laws is likely to feature emotional testimony from the mother of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, but is not intended to lay the groundwork for federal legislation addressing such statutes, according to a Democratic aide.

Instead, the hearing is meant to spark a “national debate on the impact of these laws,” said an aide to Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said. The Illinois Democrat is chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which will evaluate the controversial self-defense laws that are now on the books in at least 22 states.

“Our hearing will examine how these laws came to be; the way in which the laws have changed the legal definition of self defense; the extent to which the laws have encouraged unnecessary shooting confrontations; and the civil rights implications when racial profiling and ‘stand your ground’ laws mix, along with other issues,” the aide, who declined to be identified, said in an email to CQ Roll Call.

The hearing was originally scheduled for Sept. 17, but was delayed in the aftermath of the fatal shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

Durbin first announced the hearing in July, following the widely publicized trial of George Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., who shot and killed Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, following a confrontation in February 2012. A jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges after determining he had acted in self defense, even though he initially pursued Martin. The verdict set off a national debate about racial profiling and laws, such as Florida’s, that provide added legal protections for people to use deadly force if they feel threatened.

President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and other Democrats have criticized the state laws as a dangerous expansion of self-defense legal protections.

Two House Democrats, Reps. Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois and Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, are scheduled to testify Tuesday in opposition to the “stand your ground” laws, while a House Republican, Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas, is expected to speak in defense of them. A second panel of witnesses includes Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and the mother of another unarmed teenager who was shot to death in similar circumstances, as well as legal experts.

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