WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. One of my favorite parts in the movie “Casablanca” is at the very end, when Rick, the Humphrey Bogart character, shoots Gestapo officer Major Strasser in the presence of the local police captain.
Capt. Renault is standing there as Rick kills the Nazi officer to prevent him from stopping the airborne escape of Victor Laszlo, a Czechoslovakian freedom fighter, and Rick’s old flame, Ilsa, from Casablanca.
Other police officers arrive at the airport momentarily after the shooting while Rick and the police captain are standing at the edge of the runway with the dead Nazi officer on the tarmac.
“Major Strasser’s been shot,” the police captain announces to his underlings.
Then he exchanges a look with Rick, a look that says he intends to cover up what happened.
“Round up the usual suspects,” the police captain tells his men.
I was thinking of that scene after reading the way-too-brief Report of the Governor’s Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, the product of the make-believe evaluation of Florida’s “stand your ground” gun law.
When Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager was shot and killed in February by George Zimmerman, an over-zealous community watch volunteer in Sanford, state officials scrambled to tamp down the well-deserved furor that erupted over the state’s 7-year-old reckless gun law, which Zimmerman cited as his rationale for killing Martin.
And Gov. Rick Scott, playing the role of Capt. Renault in “Casablanca,” arrived at a quick solution to the mess.
Round up the usual suspects.
The state task force looking into the wisdom of the NRA-inspired 2005 law would be led by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the lifetime NRA member who also co-sponsored the shoot-’em-up law when she was in the Legislature. And her fellow panel members would include Sen. David Simmons, the legislator who wrote the bill and Rep. Dennis Baxley, a professional mortician with a 100 percent rating by the NRA, who sponsored the bill in the house.
(By the way, shouldn’t it be a conflict of interest for an undertaker to advocate reckless gun laws?)
And that’s not all. Another usual suspect that got a seat on the panel was Rep. Jasper Brodeur, who has the honor of having sponsored the NRA’s must ludicrous legislative stunt in Florida: the short-lived unconstitutional law that prevented pediatricians from asking young parents if they had any guns in their homes.
The 17-member panel was guided by leaders who could be counted on to go through the charade of a public inquiry while not actually doing much second-guessing of the law they wrote, promoted and voted for. So it’s little surprise that the task force didn’t shoot any holes in the law. It wouldn’t have been hard to do.
For example, how about this recommendation?
“Create a system to track self-defense claims in Florida. Floridians need to know the actual effects of the law and how it is working across the state. A system to track the number of self-defense claims and the case outcomes would assist in doing so.”
The task force guided by the usual suspects didn’t come up with that recommendation. That was a recommendation from a second task force convened by Sen. Chris Smith, who tried to get on the real task force but didn’t get picked.
That recommendation was based on the sound notion that if you want to see the effect of the “stand your ground” law, a law that emboldens citizens to shoot if they imagine their life is in danger during confrontations in public, just look at the seven-year history of cases in Florida.
David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, wrote a piece that summed up the findings of multiple studies showing that “stand your ground” gun laws don’t deter crime and have a troubling racial component in the way they are prosecuted.
The Tampa Bay Times looked at the nearly 200 times this law has been invoked in Florida cases and found that most people who use this defense have a criminal arrest record and one-third have had an arrest for threatening someone with a gun.
Gov. Scott’s right. You don’t have to rush to conclusions about the law. But you do have to consider the regrettable carnage it has reaped.
Unless of course, you’re simply rounding up the usual suspects.
Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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