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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The NRA is targeting a Jacksonville lawmaker over a failed 'Stand Your Ground' measure

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2016 at 10:27 AM

A Jacksonville lawmaker, who two years ago received a perfect rating from the National Rifle Association, is now a target of the Second Amendment group as he seeks to become a circuit judge.

In a letter Saturday to NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida members, influential gun-rights lobbyist Marion Hammer deemed House Judiciary Chairman Charles McBurney "unfit" for a judgeship as she implored members to email Gov. Rick Scott to keep the Republican lawmaker "off the bench."

McBurney has drawn the ire of Second Amendment advocates because his committee did not move forward this year with a measure tied to the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law.

"If he tramples self-defense rights as a legislator, it is frightening to imagine how he will trample constitutional rights as a judge," wrote Hammer, who is a past president of the NRA and is executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida. "He has to be stopped!!"

McBurney, who cannot seek re-election this year due to term limits, is one of six candidates recommended by a nominating commission to become a judge in the 4th Judicial Circuit, made up of Duval, Clay and Nassau counties. Members of Scott's staff are scheduled to interview McBurney on Thursday.

Scott's office did not immediately respond to questions Monday about McBurney and the judicial-nomination interviews. Scott will choose from among the recommended applicants, who also include Meredith Charbula, Katie Dearing, Robert Dees, Lee Kellison and Cyrus Zomorodian.

McBurney said he was "disappointed" in Hammer's letter.

In "stand your ground" cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants should be immune from prosecution. The Florida Supreme Court ruled last year that defendants have the burden of proving during the hearings that they should be shielded from prosecution. The bill that died during this year's legislative session would have shifted that burden to prosecutors.

"In my opinion, the bill would have victimized victims, especially those of domestic violence," McBurney said Monday. "No other state shifts the burden that much."

McBurney, a former prosecutor who has practiced law since graduating from the University of Florida's College of Law in 1982, said he met with Hammer in his legislative office prior to announcing the bill wouldn't be heard by his committee in the final weeks of the regular session.

"I did the best I could," McBurney said.

When the measure failed to advance before his committee, McBurney told reporters that he and Hammer "disagree" on the bill.

First elected to the House in 2007, McBurney received an "A" rating from the NRA Political Victory Fund for his position on gun rights in 2008. Two years later, he scored an "A plus." In 2012 he was graded at 93 percent in support of the group's positions. In 2014 he received a 100 percent rating.

But in the new letter, Hammer accused McBurney of engaging in "political pandering" because he wanted prosecutors to help him become a judge. Prosecutors fought the bill about the burden of proof in "stand your ground" cases.

The burden-of-proof measure was among a number of high-profile bills backed by gun-rights groups that failed this year.

Proposals were blocked in the Senate that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry firearms on university campuses and to openly display handguns in most public places.

McBurney's House Judiciary Committee voted 12-4 in support of the open-carry measure (HB 163) and 13-5 to back the campus-carry proposal (HB 4001). In both votes, only Democrats were opposed.

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