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Parents of dead teen vow to fight Florida's self-defense law

Michael Dunn (L) raises his hands in disbelief as he looks toward his parents after the verdicts were announced in his trial in Jacksonville
Michael Dunn (L) raises his hands in disbelief as he looks toward his parents after the verdicts were announced in his trial in Jacksonville

By Susan Cooper Eastman

JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Reuters) - The parents of Jordan Davis, a Florida teenager who was killed by a middle-aged man in a gas station dispute over loud rap music, plan to campaign to reform the state's self-defense law that they blame for their son's death.

"I expect Jordan would expect us to do what we are doing. To be a champion, not just for him, but for everyone," the teen's mother, Lucia McBath, told Reuters on Monday.

Michael Dunn, a white, 47-year-old software engineer, was convicted on February 15 on three counts of attempted murder for opening fire on a car of black teenagers during an argument in November 2012 in the parking lot of a Jacksonville gas station.

But the jury could not reach a verdict on a murder charge related to Davis' death. Dunn faces a minimum sentence of 60 years in prison and prosecutors say they plan to retry him on the murder charge.

Dunn testified that he feared for his life, drawing comparisons to the trial of George Zimmerman, the former central Florida neighborhood watchman who was acquitted last year of murder after saying he shot a 17-year-old unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in self-defense.

The parents of Davis and Martin plan to attend a rally protesting the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law in Tallahassee after the Florida legislative session opens on March 10.

The stand-your-ground law allows a person who "reasonably believes" they are in imminent fear of serious bodily injury to use deadly force to defend themselves, even if, despite their belief, no real threat exists.

The law was adopted in Florida in 2005 and has been copied in more than 20 states since then.

Civil rights groups and a handful of state legislators are urging a legal review of Florida's self-defense statute, saying it has created a license to kill for gun owners who hate or fear young black men.

But gun rights activists, backed by a Republican-controlled legislature, have resisted all efforts to undo the law.

Davis' parents said the law is too subjective, and allows gun owners to shoot on the slightest fear, even if only imaginary.

"What is reasonable to you? How gray is that?" said Jordan's father, Ron Davis, a retired Delta employee. "What was reasonable to Michael Dunn was certainly not reasonable to Jordan. He didn't reason that he was going to be shot and killed for what he said."

Dunn testified that he thought he saw Davis pick up a shotgun in the car after the teen mouthed off a barrage of expletives, but investigators said no weapon was found.

The law "leaves it completely open to people to interpret what that means, and laws should be concrete and definitive," added McBath, the mother of the teen slain over loud music.

McBath and Davis are divorced and shared custody of their son, though the boy lived with his father in Jacksonville for the last 18 months of his life. They spoke to Reuters in a joint interview at the office of their lawyer in Jacksonville.

McBath said her son always wanted to play all music loud. "He'd say, 'We aren't hurting anybody,'" she recalled ruefully. "'Let the music flow.'"

After the death of her son, McBath, a Delta airlines flight attendant who lives in Atlanta, became a national spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a non-profit group created in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012.

"She is very involved in our chapter in Georgia. She's incredibly eloquent," said Shannon Watts, the group's founder. "She truly believes this happened for a reason. She believes it's her calling and what she's going to dedicate her life to," she added.

Taking on a political role felt natural after her son's death, she said. Her father Lucien Holman was the president of the Illinois branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and on the executive board of the national organization for years.

"I never expected that I would use those roots in this form and for this reason, but it is a very natural course for me," she said.

(This story was corrected to remove paragraph 7. Oulson not planning to attend rally)

(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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