Chuck Schumer: 'Stand Your Ground' Laws Should Be Investigated By Justice Department, Congress

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants the federal government to take a closer look at the "Stand Your Ground" laws that are at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.

"I'm sending a letter to the Justice Department today to ask them to expand their investigation into the general application of these Stand Your Ground laws, whether they actually increase rather than decrease violence and whether they actually prevent law enforcement from prosecuting cases where a real crime has been committed," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said he would like to see hearings about the laws on Capitol Hill.

"I think we should examine this law. They're all new," he added. "They've been passed very, very quickly. I think the states who pass them, if they find out the real facts, may decide to repeal them."

George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin, has so far avoided arrest under Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which allows an individual who feels threatened to "stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force." Critics say that the law did not apply in this case, because Martin was unarmed and, according to the recording of a 911 call, Zimmerman pursued him.

Florida became the first state to pass a Stand Your Ground law in 2005. The bill was backed by the National Rifle Association, legislators from both parties and signed into law by then-governor Jeb Bush (R). Twenty other states now have similar laws on the books.

"I'm a law enforcement Democrat. I have a lot of faith in our police and sheriffs. I don't like the move to vigilantism," said Schumer. "The bottom line is had Mr. Zimmerman listened to the police when he called 911 and let them handle it, this would have had a much better outcome."

Since Florida passed Stand Your Ground, the number of justifiable homicides has increased, according to the state's Department of Law Enforcement.

From 2000 to 2005, there were 13 such killings by private citizens each year, on average. Between 2006 and 2010, after the law was passed, there were 36 killings per year. In 2009, the number of justifiable homicides peaked at 45.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) recently said he is open to changes in the law if the Martin case highlights problems with it.

"If there's something wrong with the law that's in place, I think it's important we address it," Scott said. "If what's happening is it's being abused, that's not right."