After a year of headlines involving widespread media coverage of Floridas Stand Your Ground law, guns are set to be a hot issue during the 2014 legislative session, with several new bills making their way through Florida's legislative chambers.
SB 448, proposed by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, is one bill gathering attention from gun rights organizations. Evers bill, if passed, would grant immunity to Florida gun owners who point their defensive handgun at an attacker. The bill also intends to fix issues that arise due to Florida law which requires mandatory sentencing for certain gun crimes.
Under Floridas 10-20-Life law, certain gun crimes can be punishable by at least 10 years in prison and others may be punishable for 20 years or longer if the weapon is actually fired.
The warning shot bill would provide criminal and civil immunity to those who threaten to use force if the threat was made in a manner and under circumstances had force actually been used. Evers bill would ensure that these individuals would not be sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentences as dictated by the 10-20-Life law.
Some lawmakers from around the state have expressed concern that the legislation would encourage people to fire shots.
"You're telling people, 'I can shoot a warning shot,'" Sen. Christopher Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said. "The Legislature is telling me to shoot a warning shot. And that warning shot may not be in the air. ... To me, that's inviting negligence.
In January, Evers bill passed through the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. On Tuesday, the bill passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill has gathered support from the National Rifle Association, who urged members in an email blast Monday afternoon to contact members of the committee to get them to support the bill.
Getting the bill out of this committee is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, read the blast. If YOU have a concealed carry license issued by the state for lawful self-defense or if you carry a gun in your vehicle for defensive purposes, you could become a victim of an abusive prosecutor if you ever have to use it in self-defense. They will let your attacker walk free and go after you. As a law-abiding gun owner you could become low hanging fruit for a malicious anti-gun prosecutor.
Marion Hammer, former NRA president and executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, was quick to defend warning shots.
When people are in fear for their lives or the lives of loved ones, they might fire a warning shot rather than shoot someone, said Hammer in a December op-ed in the Sun-Sentinel. People make mistakes and do irrational things when in fear of death or injury. That doesn't mean they should go to prison for 20 years when there was no injury or harm done.
Hammer was critical of prosecutors who might use the 10-20-Life law to punish those who act in self defense.
The 10-20-Life law was never intended to be used against citizens who, in an act of self-defense, threatened the use of force to stop an attacker, including the unwise use of a warning shot, she wrote. Yet, that's what some prosecutors are doing The cold hard reality is that some prosecutors are treating law-abiding people like criminals. People who never would have been in the system had they not been attacked and in fear for their own safety are being prosecuted. Self-defense is not a crime, it is a right and prosecutors are trampling those rights.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.