The hearing in room 417 started a lot like any other.
The chairman took roll call. A stream of Florida elected officials spent a half hour paying almost impossibly earnest homage to the democratic process and the importance of civil debate. Then, a host of student activists, gun rights and gun control advocates took their turns behind the hearing room’s miniature microphone.
Almost five hours later, the Florida House Criminal Justice Subcommittee took its vote, defeating a bill that would have altered the states’ now globally infamous “Stand your ground” law by a wide margin. And it wasn’t even a surprise.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and man whom Slate describes as a conservative ideologue with virtually no filter, declared publicly this summer that he “would not change one damn comma,” of Florida’s “Stand your ground” law.
But a collection of civil rights and gun control activists around the country say the fight to quash “Stand your ground” and what they see as the laws’ deadly proceeds is alive and strong. The crowds of sign-carrying, hoodie-wearing protesters may have disappeared. “#Trayvon” and “#NoJusticeNoSleep,” may no longer rank among the top 10 trending topics on Twitter. Still, a cadre of activists willing to fight policies that they believe unfairly and unreasonably imperil people of color is building, they say.
“What happened was a bunch of young people, driven by a sense of injustice and a sense that this law must be changed, forced what I think is the start of a long conversation,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, legal and policy director of the Dream Defenders, a Florida-based civil rights organization led by young adults who staged a 30-day occupation of the Florida Capitol building this summer to force the hearing. “That conversation isn’t going to stop today.”
There’s at least some objective evidence that Abuznaid is right.
Last month, the parents of Trayvon Martin—one of two unarmed black Florida teens shot and killed by men who made “Stand your ground” claims—testified before Congress. Last Monday, a coalition of concerned citizens filed a federal suit challenging the constitutionality of Georgia’s “Stand your ground” law. And the National Rifle Association, which did not respond to a request for comment from The Root this week, took the Florida legislative subcommittee hearing seriously enough to issue an action alert to its members.