The Florida Sheriffs Association is no longer neutral on the state's controversial "stand your ground" law.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, the new president of the association, announced Friday that members agreed earlier in the week without opposition to support the law "as currently written."
"Our current judicial system is comprised of multiple checks and balances to ensure fair and equitable application of all laws, including 'stand your ground,'" Judd said in a prepared statement.
When the National Rifle Association-backed law was approved in 2005, the association remained neutral on the issue.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who supports "stand your ground" and whose subcommittee will hold a hearing on the law, called it enlightening that a group that "has traditionally been tepid" on the law now "recognizes its value."
"I think they recognize that Florida is a safer place when our citizens don't have a duty to retreat and run," Gaetz said.
The voice vote Tuesday came with 57 of the state's sheriffs in attendance.
The law, which grants legal immunity to people who use deadly force if they reasonably believe their lives are in danger, is one of the targets of a group of protesters, led by the Hialeah-based Dream Defenders, who have remained around the clock at the Capitol for 25 days.
"Stand your ground" has come under heavy scrutiny since the July 13 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin in Seminole County.
While Zimmerman's defense team did not use the "stand your ground" law, the debate over the shooting at times focused on it.
The protesters also want legislation advanced that ends zero-tolerance school discipline policies and support initiatives meant to combat racial profiling.
As of Friday afternoon, 28 lawmakers — all Democrats — have filed petitions with the Florida Department of State requesting a special session on the law.
The proposal is an effort to circumvent the opposition to a special session by Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leadership.
If 32 legislators make the request, all 160 legislators from both Republican-dominated chambers would be polled. A special session would be held only if three-fifths of the members supported the idea.
The sheriffs association took up the issue after House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) and Attorney General Pam Bondi said they would like to know the view of law enforcement on "stand your ground."
Weatherford had said he would be open to considering changes if law enforcement clearly outlined that any changes were needed.
"I appreciate the input from the Florida Sheriffs Association regarding 'stand your ground,'" Weatherford said in an email Friday.
"Getting feedback from Florida's leaders in law enforcement is critical to the Legislature and will be important as we hold a hearing on the law later this fall." He said.
Weatherford has directed Gaetz's Criminal Justice Subcommittee to hold a hearing this fall.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that the protest attracted 38 people to spend Thursday night at the Capitol, confined to the area outside Scott's office on the first floor. The number was up from 12 the night before.