Dick Durbin to Hold Senate Hearings on ALEC, the NRA, and “Stand Your Ground“

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced Friday that he will hold hearings this fall on the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the NRA in spreading “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country, which the Center for Media and Democracy uncovered last year, after launching ALECexposed.org.

Sen. Durbin’s Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hear testimony on the NRA-backed legislation, which has become law in over two dozen states since being adopted as a “model” by ALEC in 2005.

The announcement comes six days after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was initially cited to protect Zimmerman from arrest, and the jury was instructed to consider Stand Your Ground when deciding his fate, even though the defense did not request a ruling under the law’s criminal immunity provisions. The one juror who has spoken publicly said that the state’s Stand Your Ground law influenced their decision to acquit. As CMD’s Executive Director Lisa Graveshas documented, the NRA played a key role in approving those jury instructions, in addition to helping initially draft the Stand Your Ground law and taking it to ALEC to become a “model” for the nation.

Durbin’s office also plans to examine the legal definition of self defense, how such laws have affected shooting confrontations and how such laws affect the problem of racial profiling.

Rep. Raul Gutierrez (D-IL) asked House Judiciary Committee Chair Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) to hold similar hearings in the House, but he has declined to comment. The Congressional Black Caucus has also announced plans to examine Stand Your Ground laws.

Also on Friday, President Obama discussed some of his concerns about the law and the Trayvon Martin tragedy:

“[I]f we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?

And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.”

Yesterday, CMD joined an array of organizations and citizens concerned about these laws at a rally in front of ALEC’s new headquarters outside of Washington, DC. ALEC has tried to distance itself from the proliferation of Stand Your Ground laws by telling the press that it has stopped endorsing gun bills. However, as noted in a letter signed yesterday by CMD, the NAACP, Color of Change and 37 other civil rights, labor, and watchdog organizations, ALEC has not called for the repeal of Stand Your Ground in Florida or any other state, despite spending more than six years promoting the legislation.

At the event yesterday, ALEC – whose central feature is helping get the wish lists of corporations and special interest groups into the hands of state legislators – refused to accept a copy of the letter from these national organizations that represent millions of Americans. Diallo Brooks of People for the American Way offered the letter to an ALEC representative, who refused to accept it. The police officer standing nearby accepted the letter and offered it to ALEC’s rep, who refused to even look at it.

ALEC may be disinterested in the views of concerned citizens about its legacy of endorsing Stand Your Ground and pushing it into law in dozens of states, but both the United States Senate and President Obama have now signaled they are interested in the impact of these laws.