A proposal aimed at strengthening Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was killed on Tuesday in the state House of Representatives, thanks to an effort led by Rep. Dave Kerner. The measure would have made self-defense claims virtually unassailable.

“It’s a big relief for me,” Kerner, a Democrat, tells The Trace.

The fight began in the House in September, with a bill backed by the National Rifle Association that sought to refine the 2005 Stand Your Ground statute that shielded crime victims who defended themselves with lethal force. As Trace contributor Mark Obbie explained this fall, the measure would have set a new legal standard, “shifting the burden of proof from defendants to prosecutors, meaning that a prosecutor would have to prove that the defendant is not entitled to Stand Your Ground protection, rather than making an individual prove that he does fit the criteria.”

The proposal appeared to have died in November, after members of the House’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted it down. But last week, it was reported that the legislation had returned to life. A similar version of the bill had passed the state Senate early this month, and after being sent over to the House, the Republican Speaker, Steve Crisafulli, referred it to the Judiciary Committee, on which Kerner serves as the ranking Democrat. It was up to the Committee’s Republican chair, Carlos Trujillo, to schedule a vote for the bill. Were the committee to take up the proposal, the hearing would have occurred on Thursday, February 25 — the day before the four-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, whose death is closely associated with Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute.

On Tuesday, Kerner worked tirelessly to whip enough votes to defeat the measure. There are 18 members on the committee, only six of whom are Democrats. He needed to secure three Republican votes to keep the bill from going to floor, where it would likely be approved in the GOP-controlled House. By the end of the day, Kerner believed he had enough Republicans on his side and informed the Chairman that, if he brought the bill in front of the committee, it would not survive. The Chairman relented.

Even so, the legislation is all but guaranteed to return.

“Generally, when lawmakers fail to pass a bill, they try and bring it up again the next year,” Kerner says. “I suspect that’s what’s going to happen.”

[Photo: Ted Soqui/Corbis/APImages]