Florida State Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) proposed an amendment that would prevent media access to Stand Your Ground case records. Gaetz created the amendment after the Tampa Bay Times released an in-depth report about 200 cases which detailed the harrowing social implications of Stand Your Ground.
The investigation revealed alarming statistics regarding Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Out of the 200 cases examined, shooters went unpunished 113 times. Also, there were 135 cases where victims, like Trayvon Martin, were unarmed, and the accused was already armed in 121 cases.
According to Gaetz’s blatant attack on the first amendment, anyone found innocent using the Stand Your Ground defence can “apply for a certificate of eligibility to expunge the associated criminal history record.” Gaetz claims the amendment is unrelated to the Tampa Bay Times investigation and said that “The point is to ensure that someone . . . doesn’t have their life ruined by the use of that defense.”
Certainly, he doesn’t mean in the way that the defense ruined George Zimmerman’s life, right? Autograph signings, appearances at gun shows, and thousands of dollars to participate in a celebrity boxing match, it sounds terrible. The fight was eventually called off by the promoter, but the fact that there was even an offer is a testament to how absolutely unruined Zimmerman’s life was after the trial. That trial and Zimmerman’s life thereafter were an utter media circus.
Gaetz’s motivations behind the proposed amendment are now even more suspect because he initially thought the Tampa Bay Times reports was compiled with media reports and said the newspaper would still have been able to conduct the investigation. However, he was later notified that the investigation was compiled with court documents. Gaetz then backtracked on his position.
“I’ll look into it,” he said. “It’s not the intent of the bill to limit our access to data regarding the use of the defense and crime statistics. At that extent, we’ll certainly take a look at it.”
Gaetz’s original proposal still has support from former National Rifle Association president Marion Hammer, who wrote the initial Stand Your Ground law. Hammer said public policy is not the media’s business. He then attempts to use the privacy argument to justify himself.
“It’s an overreach on the media’s part to think they need to know everything about everyone’s life,” said Hammer. “Privacy is an important thing in America. When people are wronged it should be repaired, and it shouldn’t be anybody’s business.”
These kinds of court records are within the public domain, and everyone knows that. It’s Civics 101, and no matter what reasons, whether created by politician or gun advocate, the fact remains the same that this proposed amendment is an encroachment upon the first amendment.
Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.