House Speaker Brendan Sharkey wants to take a closer look at the state's existing self-defense laws to make sure that a situation like the deadly shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin can't happen in Connecticut.
Sharkey told The Associated Press on Monday he plans to consult with law enforcement officials and community groups to identify whether there are any issues with current state laws and, if necessary, address those issues during the new legislative session that convenes in February.
"I know that we don't have the same kind of 'stand your ground law' as in Florida," said Sharkey, a Hamden Democrat. "But it is something that I wanted to take a look at next session to see if we're doing anything that would create a scenario that might evolve the way the tragic situation in Florida did."
Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was recently acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in connection to Martin's death in 2012. Zimmerman's attorneys argued he shot Martin in self-defense.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Connecticut doesn't have a so-called "stand your ground law" like in Florida and other states, which generally eliminate a person's duty to retreat in the face of a serious physical threat. Rather, under Connecticut's law, someone who makes a self-defense claim assumes a burden of proof and must offer evidence of self-defense, such as showing they feared being harmed and that it was a reasonable fear any reasonable person in the same situation would have felt.
Also, Looney, an attorney, said Connecticut's law takes into account whether a person had a reasonable opportunity to escape or disengage from the confrontation.
"Self-defense is always very fact-specific. You have to take into account the nature of the threat the person was facing, the degree of force he used and whether or not there was a safer, less violent alternative or safe avenue of escape that somebody could have used," Looney said. "So, the Connecticut standard I think is a reasonable one because all of those factors usually do get taken into account."
He said people can take a look at the law and see whether any changes are needed, but Looney said he believes Connecticut already has a better law than Florida.
Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, said he has asked his legislative aide to review existing state laws and plans to talk with fellow legislators and others about "what can we do in terms of being proactive in this conversation to begin looking at policies that would perpetuate what took place in Florida."
About 20 clergy members gathered at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on Monday to urge action in the wake of the Florida shooting, arguing that the Florida shooting shows racism still exists in the U.S. and steps need to be taken to ensure the lives of young black men are valued in society.
"Trayvon Martin was a child of God and did not have to die," said Rev. Anthony Bennett of Mount Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport.
A rally and march was held Monday evening in Hartford by Mothers United Against Violence and various community leaders. The event drew about 300 people and was described as a march against injustice and racism.