October 16, 2005
Expanding the Right to Self-Defense in Florida
When Florida passed a law in 1987 making it easier for citizens
to get licenses to carry concealed firearms, opponents predicted
that blood would run in the streets. "When you have 10 times
as many people carrying guns as you do now, and they get into an
argument and tempers flash, you're going to have people taking out
guns and killing people," one gun control activist said.
law was passed, it turns out, Florida's murder rate has been cut
in half. Instead of becoming more dangerous, the state has become
exceptions, the people carrying guns have done so responsibly.
In the last 18 years, the state has granted more than 1 million
conceal-carry permits. Only 155 people have had their licenses
revoked for crimes involving firearms -- one for every 7,000 licenses
of gun control advocates about that law were way off the mark.
So when you hear them warn that another law concerning firearms
will lead to unnecessary bloodshed in Florida, skepticism is in
the Florida legislature passed a measure giving citizens more
legal protection when they act in self-defense. That alarmed the
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which describes the policy
as "shoot first, ask questions never." Recently, the
group handed out leaflets at the Miami airport to advise arriving
passengers to exercise extreme caution: "Do not argue unnecessarily
with local people. If someone appears to be angry with you . .
. do not shout or make threatening gestures."
law, which took effect Oct. 1, gives greater protection to citizens
who feel compelled to use deadly force when they are attacked
in a public place. Before, someone facing "imminent death
or great bodily harm" had an obligation to retreat if possible.
Under the new rule, as David Kopel of the Colorado-based Independence
Institute puts it, "If a gang tries to mug you while you
are walking down a dark street, and you draw a gun and shoot one
of the gangsters, a prosecutor cannot argue that you should have
tried to run away."
have characterized the change to mean any Floridian with a firearm
can blast away with impunity. "I can picture a stressed-out
Tampa soccer mom drawing a bead on an approaching panhandler and
shrieking, 'Go ahead, make my day!'" fantasized Time
magazine columnist Michelle Cottle.
law doesn't say you can shoot anyone who approaches you on the
street, or anyone who annoys you. It says you may resort to deadly
force only if 1) you are attacked or threatened with violence
and 2) you have good reason to fear being killed or badly hurt.
If a panhandler asks you for spare change, or even curses you,
that wouldn't qualify. If a beefy, hostile biker screams that
he's going to stomp you, or rape you, that probably would.
"stand your ground" rule may be new in the Sunshine
State, it's old hat elsewhere. "The majority of American
states have always held that a person who is attacked anywhere
in a manner that threatens death or great bodily harm is entitled
to use deadly force to resist, rather than retreating from the
attacker," says criminologist Don Kates, author of several
books on gun issues. But you don't see Brady Campaign staffers
handing out fliers in the other states.
people who are attacked have to look for an escape route before
fighting back? One reason is that a victim may expose herself
to additional risk by trying to flee from a criminal who is larger
and faster than she is.
problem with the old rule is that if she makes the wrong decision
and defends herself when she might arguably have gotten away,
she can end up in prison. She can also be sued. Judging whether
it's safe to flee is a split-second, life-and-death decision,
and the penalty for being wrong -- at least in the eyes of the
police -- can be heavy.
of the law think victims shouldn't be punished for acting in self-defense
against a serious threat. The change reflects the view that it
would not be a bad thing for criminals to face greater risks when
they resort to violence. And it embraces the proposition -- anathema
to gun control advocates -- that self-defense is the fundamental
right of every person.
It may be
that the new law errs on the side of giving too much protection
to victims of violent crime. But that beats erring on the side
of giving them too little.
2005 Creators Syndicate