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Trayvon Martin's mother urges Florida to repeal self-defense law

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - The mother of Trayvon Martin urged lawmakers on Wednesday to throw their support behind a bill that would repeal Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, which she blamed for the death of her son who would have turned 18 on February 5.

Speaking to reporters outside the state Senate chambers, Sybrina Fulton said the 2005 Florida self-defense law that allows people who fear for their lives to use deadly force resulted in the February 26, 2011, shooting of her unarmed son by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

The statute has been invoked in defense of Zimmerman, who was arrested 44 days after Martin's death. The high-profile shooting of the black teenager sparked a public outcry from gun control activists.

Zimmerman faces second degree murder charges at a trial scheduled for later this year.

"We need to do something seriously about this law," said Fulton, whose voice broke as she fought back tears.

"As a parent I wouldn't want you to stand in my shoes because it is hard. It is difficult," she said.

Her comments came as President Barack Obama, speaking in Washington, D.C., proposed sweeping measures to help curb gun violence across the nation.

Martin was shot after an altercation with Zimmerman in a residential neighborhood in Sanford, Florida. Critics have said that Zimmerman pursued Martin, confronted him and shot him after the two scuffled. Martin was returning from a convenience store to the townhouse where he was staying with his father.

After Martin's death, Florida Governor Rick Scott created a task force that traveled around the state over a four month period to take testimony from hundreds of stakeholders from Pensacola to Miami. In November, the 17-member group issued draft report that largely upheld the law.

Earlier this month, state Representative Alan Williams, a Democrat, filed a bill to repeal the law. The Republican-controlled legislature is due to convene in March.

"These tragedies renew the argument that Stand Your Ground laws make ordinary citizens feel empowered to shoot first and ask questions later, boosting murder rates and justifiable homicide claims," said Williams.

State Senator Dwight Bullard, a Democrat like Williams and co-sponsor of the bill to repeal Stand Your Ground, said the fact that the task force came up with no substantive changes was unacceptable.

"It's legalized vigilantism," Bullard said of the law. "As a state, we can no longer stand for it."

Marion Hammer, a Tallahassee-based gun rights activist and former national president of the National Rifle Association, said Governor Scott's task force had done its job and reached a well-reasoned conclusion.

"Our position is that there is nothing wrong with the law," said Hammer.

Florida is known for its liberal gun laws. The number of active concealed weapons licenses in the state recently reached more than 1 million, more than any other U.S. state.

(Reporting by Michael Peltier; Editing by Tom Brown)

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