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Trayvon Martin's mother asks Senate to curb 'Stand Your Ground' laws

(Reuters) - The mother of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin urged a Senate panel to help rescind "Stand Your Ground" laws that have proliferated in state legislatures, granting gun owners wider latitude to use their weapons in self-defense.

Stand Your Ground laws remove requirements to retreat from danger and grant people the right to meet force with force when they reasonably fear bodily harm.

"It certainly did not work in my case. The person that shot and killed my son is walking the streets today," Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"We need to do something about this law when our kids cannot feel safe in their own community," Fulton said.

Since Florida passed its law in 2005, more than half the states have passed similar laws with the backing of the gun lobby, said Illinois Senator Dick Durban, a Democrat who led the hearing and claimed the laws have led to 600 additional homicides a year in the United States.

Criticism of such laws intensified after the 2012 death of Martin, who was unarmed.

Police in the central Florida town of Sanford initially declined to arrest his shooter, George Zimmerman, citing the Stand Your Ground law and evidence that Martin was getting the best of Zimmerman in a struggle when Zimmerman drew his gun and fired.

Zimmerman was later charged and brought to trial, and a six-woman jury cleared him of second-degree murder.

The Zimmerman case generated street protests across the United States and a nationwide debate about guns laws, with supporters noting the right to bear arms and self-defense were deeply ingrained in the United States.

So far none of the state laws have been rescinded, and the U.S. Senate would have little ability to overturn state laws.

"These Stand Your Ground laws had led to increases in homicides and firearm injuries including 600 additional homicides a year with no deterrent effect on crimes like robbery and assault," Durbin said, citing research from Texas A&M University.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, disputed Durbin's conclusions and said Florida data showed African American defendants have used the Stand Your Ground defense more frequently than have white defendants.

"The Stand Your Ground defense only applies when it is a violent aggressor attacking an innocent defender. If it is not, the law doesn't apply," Cruz said.

Fulton later countered that "Trayvon was minding his own business" but the jury still found Zimmerman was within his right to use deadly force.

"(Trayvon) was not looking for any type of trouble," Fulton said. "He was not committing any crime, and that's important to remember."

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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