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Charles Cutter

Gun Crazy
By Charles Cutter (www.cuttersway.com)
Apr 7, 2005 - 10:00:00 PM

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Fresh from trying to "save" Terri Schiavo, Florida governor Jeb Bush intends to make it easier for people to legally kill one another.

From the Miami Herald, 4/6/05: "Floridians will soon have the right to shoot or stab someone in a violent confrontation with fewer possibilities of being prosecuted, under a proposed law passed Tuesday by the Legislature. Gov. Jeb Bush has pledged his support."

In a ploy common to right-wing arguments, proponents of the legislation wrap their case in emotional issues essentially irrelevant to the matter at hand. They would have us believe that it is simply a confirmation of the so-called "Castle Doctrine," holding that "a man’s home is his castle" and a person has a moral and legal right to defend their home with deadly force.

For instance:

Don Gaetz, Superintendent of Okaloosa County (FL) Schools: "[The new law] would allow Floridians to use deadly force to resist attacks in their homes or vehicles. Proponents say current case law is fuzzy, especially in the hands of liberal judges, when someone breaks into your house or car…The proposed law would remove any ‘duty to retreat’ from your house, automobile, or workplace…"

Florida Senate testimony from Marion Hammer, NRA lobbyist: "[The new law is] about affirming that your home is your castle and, in Florida, you should be able to be safe inside its walls."

Or this, from the NRA website: "The citizens of Florida have a right to expect absolute safety within their own homes or vehicles and to be able to use all manner of force against an unlawful intruder/attacker."

In the quotes above, the emphasis has been added to make a point. The controversial aspect of this soon-to-be-law - indeed, the primary change in existing law - does not revolve around this "Castle Doctrine."

In fact, it’s a macho dream come true.

From the Associated Press, 4/5/05: "Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday he intends to sign a bill that would allow people who feel threatened - even on the street or at a baseball game - to ‘meet force with force’ and defend themselves without fear of prosecution…The measure essentially extends a right Floridians already have in their home or car. Under present law, however, people attacked anywhere else are supposed to do what they can to avoid escalating the situation and can use deadly force only after they’ve tried to retreat."

From the Miami Herald, 4/6/05: "Democrats primarily objected to language that will remove from current law the duty of citizens to retreat in confrontations in public settings. The duty to retreat traditionally has not applied to a person facing a home invader."

From the St. Petersburg Times, 3/23/05: "No Floridians have been prosecuted for defending their homes."

Again, the emphasis has been provided to highlight a distinction not commonly made by the bill’s proponents. The proposed law - expected to go into effect October 1 - does not clarify the "Castle Doctrine," it dramatically extends it from home and vehicle to any public setting.

From the bill itself: "A person who is attacked in any…place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force…"

In the words of Rep. Steve Geller (D - Miami Beach): "It’s never been thought that a man’s mall is his castle or the street is his castle." He pointed out that soon it will be "a man’s state is his castle."

There is no crisis in current Florida law necessitating this new legislation. The "Castle Doctrine" is already well-entrenched; nobody is going to jail for defending their homes. Indeed, it is also legal to use deadly force for self-defense in settings other than your car or home - but, in public places, the legal hurdle is higher. One must retreat from conflict - if possible - before using deadly force. This is merely common sense. In one’s home, for instance, it’s generally easier to ascertain which party is the "intruder." Out in public, things get far more complicated.

Florida has reasonable guidelines to issue permits for carrying a concealed firearm, and it should be noted that the predictions of anti-gun critics have not come to pass - there has been no "bloodbath" as the result of private citizens carrying guns. But the proposed new law does not enhance an individual’s right to self-defense so much as it encourages the escalation of road rage and barroom brawls into deadly conflicts.

Duane Thomas, in his article "The Ethics of Concealed Carry," writes: "If you’re carrying a gun, you just lost the right to flip your finger at the motorist who cut you off in traffic. If someone gets in your face and tries to pick a fight, you’ve lost the right to respond in kind, period…" Ideally, he writes, "The presence of the concealed firearm…stops the armed man from feeling especially threatened by his unarmed aggressor. The people who would refuse to back down are those who respond from a position of weakness."

Self-defense, under current Florida law, is entirely legal; but the use of deadly force requires a degree of maturity and common sense lacking in Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature.

That is slated to change in October.


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