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Father of slain Florida teen steps into "Stand Your Ground" battle

By Susan Cooper Eastman

JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Reuters) - Now that the father of 17-year-old Jordan Davis has buried his son, he is turning his grief and anger over the high school student's shooting death into a crusade against guns and Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law.

"The first goal is to get Stand Your Ground repealed because that law emboldens people to carry firearms and to use them if somebody looks at them sideways," Ron Davis said.

His son, an unarmed black teenager whose story has parallels with that of Trayvon Martin, another Florida teenager shot and killed by a man arguing self-defense, was gunned down on November 23 by a white man when a dispute over rap music in the parking lot of a Jacksonville gas station turned deadly.

"I shouldn't be able to end your life, end the life of your children, end the life of your family members, just because I misinterpret your actions," said Davis, a Jacksonville resident and retiree from Delta Airlines.

Michael Dunn, a 45-year-old software developer, has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge in the fatal shooting of Davis. He told police he fired in self-defense after arguing with him and three other youths in a sport utility vehicle over their loud music.

His attorney, Robin Lemonidis, has not said Dunn will invoke the Stand Your Ground law in his defense. But she said in media interviews that he "acted responsibly" and fired out of fear for his life when someone in the SUV brandished a shotgun and threatened him. No shotgun, or other weapon, was found, authorities say.

The Stand Your Ground law says it is legal for people to defend themselves if they "reasonably believe" someone will hurt them.

Davis told his son's classmates and friends during a meeting on Wednesday at Jacksonville's Wolfson High School that he would begin his campaign with a candlelight vigil for Jordan Davis on December 15.

Wearing a white shirt with his son's picture on the front and the words, "Kill Guns, Not Kids," Davis said he wanted to show the students how he planned to cope with his grief to show them how they could deal with theirs.

"Kids, especially kids, want to lash out," he said. "I want to tell them, 'Look, if anybody is going to lash out, it's going to be me. I'm the parent. ... If I'm not lashing out, take direction from me.'"

He has started a Facebook page, "R.I.P Jordan Davis." It now has 40,000 members and the number has been growing rapidly.

"This is going to be a long fight, and I'm in it for the long haul," Davis said.

'BARBARIC LAW'

The Stand Your Ground law was intended to make communities safer by allowing people to fight back against criminals and anyone thought seeking to do them bodily harm.

A report by the Tampa Bay Times in October 2010 showed the annual number of justifiable homicides in Florida had tripled in the five years the law had been in place.

But widespread opposition to the law did not emerge until the shooting of Martin last February by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, whom police initially declined to arrest, will stand trial next June for murder. He said he shot Martin in self-defense during a struggle.

In response to protests, Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott promised in March to re-examine Stand Your Ground. His 19-member task force issued its report just 10 days before Davis was killed, affirming a citizen's right to use deadly force in self-defense.

"This barbaric law has got to be repealed," said Jacksonville pastor R.L. Gundy, president of the state chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference civil rights group. "We don't need gunslingers anymore in this country. This isn't the Wild West where everybody packed a gun to protect his family."

(Editing by Tom Brown, David Adams and Peter Cooney)

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