Republicans in Florida appeared to make a major concession to protestors last week when House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) ordered hearings on the state's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law.
But less thrilling to the law's critics was Weatherford's pick to chair the meetings: staunch "Stand Your Ground" fan Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach).
"I don't support changing one damn comma of the 'Stand Your Ground' law," Gaetz told the Tampa Bay Times Friday. "It would be reactionary and dangerous to make Floridians less safe to pacify uninformed protesters."
Gaetz also said he thinks the hearings are a "good idea" because he wants "an opportunity to give a full-throated defense of the law."
"So much for an objective review of the law's unintended consequences," wrote the Orlando Sentinel's editorial board, who called the hearings a "farce" while House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale) took Gaetz to task.
"That type of attitude is why we have the people of the state protesting," Thurston told the Tampa Tribune. "It will only continue to fuel those who are calling for actions that Florida doesn't really need, like boycotts and everybody arming themselves. Those voices will only get louder. The people of Florida deserve adult conversation about the issue."
Gaetz's comments also prompted Dream Defenders director Phillip Agnew to challenge Gaetz to a televised debate on "Stand Your Ground," which removes a person's duty to retreat in the face of a threat. Agnew has been sleeping in the Florida capitol with other Dream Defenders in a round-the-clock protest urging Florida Governor Rick Scott to hold a special legislative session on the law, among other requests.
The hearings are "a critical first step," Agnew told the Times.
Scott, who spent three days away from his office before finally meeting with the Dream Defenders for 30 minutes, has refused to call a special session. The other two state officials empowered to call such a session, Weatherford and Gaetz's father, Senate President Don Geaetz (R-Niceville), have also refused.
“I wish the protesters weren’t there. I wish they’d leave," the elder Gaetz has said.
Weatherford's appointment of Matt Gaetz seems to mirror the efforts Scott employed when he commissioned a task force to review the law after it delayed the arrest of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The committee was stocked with the bill's sponsor, three co-sponsors, and other members unlikely to find fault with the statute.
The panel was a "shining example of cynical political window dressing," according to South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial cartoonist Chan Lowe, and recommended no significant changes.
As it is now part of Florida's self-defense law, the "Stand Your Ground" statute was later cited in instructions given to the Zimmerman jury; two jurors in the case have said that the wording left no option but acquittal.
Weatherford has not yet set a date for the hearings, but Gaetz's mind is made up.
"If the members of the committee support changes, they will be proposed, but nobody can count on my vote," he told the Tribune.