Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wild West in Florida

According to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat,

With a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association at his side, Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill Tuesday intended to make it clear that people have a right to defend themselves on the street, meeting "force with force" without fear of being prosecuted.

A more detailed report in the Washington Post discussed the new Florida law that will free citizens of that pesky "duty to retreat" when faced with a threat outside their homes. This "duty to retreat" is an important element of any sane law on self defense. It requires that a citizen do as much as possible to extricate himself from a threatening situation before pulling his gun and shooting someone.

Under this new law, however, citizens of Florida will be permitted to "meet force with force."

To illustrate, let's say you're a taxi driver somewhere in the Sunshine State. Your fare, a portly old gentleman in lime green slacks and a yellow alligator shirt (remember, this is Florida) thinks the cost of his ride is too high. As you stand on the street beside your cab arguing the point, you notice that he has a cute little designer automatic tucked in the roll of fat under his belt (remember, this is Florida). Seeing his slightly palsied hand tremble in the direction of his piece, under the law you'll now be free to put on your best Robert DeNiro face, shout "You lookin' at me?", pull the two long-barreled .357 magnums from beneath your armpits, and blaze away. Just like you practiced in front of the mirror at home.

The NRA is ecstatic, of course, describing the new Florida law as the "first step of a multi-state strategy." If they have their way, every state will soon be like Florida, where minimal laws permit virtually any citizen to openly carry a gun and will soon permit that citizen to open fire if provoked (sorry, I meant to say "threatened"). Maybe it's an over-reaction to anticipate gunfights in supermarket parking lots and over bridge tables at the country club. But maybe not; all it will take is the presence of a gun on both sides of an argument.

Anyone who's spent much time being shot at, which excludes the vast majority of NRA members, knows it isn't much fun to feel a bullet pop past your head or to hear one thwack into the body of someone standing near you. And it ain't like a Charlton Heston movie. Blood and bits of bone, flesh, and clothing are likely to end up on those standing nearby. The victim doesn't fall gracefully to the ground and utter an eloquent exit line written by someone else just before he dies in the arms of his comely costar. To avoid being overly explicit, I'll just say the reality is often horribly painful and gory.

In my opinion, any citizen who inflicts this kind of injury or death on a fellow human being ought to have to meet a very high standard of self-defense. Apparently a majority of Florida legislators and Bush the Younger disagree.

NB: I'm sure Harvey the plumber thinks Jeb is a hero.


Blogger Junebugg said...

I've been shot at once, when I stumbled upon a moonshine still while walking in Bankhead Forest (I do live in the South). Not fun at all!! Maybe this is Jeb's answer to crime, hopes that they'll kill each other off. Plus it'll thin out the population

8:48 AM, April 27, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Frightening. I've had a gun pointed at me, well.... it was actually at the entire crowd, while waiting in line for Arsenio Hall tickets (am I totally dating myself?). Lovely gang banger. But that was enough of a taste for me. Oy.

5:10 PM, April 28, 2005  
Blogger carla said...

GREAT post, Tom.

11:30 PM, April 28, 2005  
Blogger Hatcher said...

Your example errs in one respect: Florida law prohibits "open carry". If you see the gun the guy in the lime green trouseres is packing, he's in violation of the law.

If he pulls that gun, then it is a reasonable conclusion to assume he intends to use it. That, under the new law, is sufficient evidence to support a self-defense plea.

Under the former law, his pulling a gun on you, while still a threat to life, could only be met by running away. That might or might not be an optimal strategy. Now, at least, one has an option to decide whether flight is the right thing to do.

Yes, I'm a Floridian. No, I do not own a pair of lime-green pants. I don't know if my taste in shirts is the same as yours, but something loose enough to cover a holster works for me.

12:20 PM, April 29, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Hatcher, as I read Title XLVI, Chapter 790 of the Florida Statutes, you're right about the prohibition on "open carry." Let's assume, for the sake of the discussion, that the gentlemen in question is one of the majority of Florida citizens required by the law to be issued a concealed carry permit, assuming he's not a crazy convicted drug user and has minimal safety qualifications. Assume further that the gun was meant to be concealed in the rolls of fat under his belt but managed to work its way out a little.

The point is that "meeting force with force" goes a long way beyond normal concepts of self defense. It almost encourages "High Noon" scenarios. Under the old law, and under the law in any other state, I'm sure, when it goes so far that someone actually pulls a gun on you, your "duty to retreat" is gone. You're free to do whatever you have to to defend yourself. There was no need to change the Florida law, except as a sop to the NRA.

My point is that by and large, private citizens shouldn't be packing heat. It's ridiculous.

7:25 PM, April 29, 2005  
Blogger Hatcher said...

I'll have to disagree with you. I did look into XLVI, Chapter 790 when this law was being discussed, as well as at the information site the state provided to discuss the various features of the old law (I haven't gone back to see if it's been changed yet).

It explicitly said that a person's having a gun, or your beliving that he had a gun, was not a legal excuse for shooting that person. Nor was there an exception for shooting to save the life of another person. There was a big exception if the matter took place in ones home or workplace, though.

I've seen a lot of stuff in print and on the web (therefore, I'm not vouching for it, utterly) that suggests that violent crime rates do drop when a would-be offender simply does not know if his would-be victim is packing or not. There is a definite sound of reason in this line of thinking, but as I've noted, I'm not quite ready to declare it dogma. I'd like to see more research into the subject.

But if your point is that there are people who have guns who really, really, really shouldn't have them, I can only agree. The problem, though, is that most of those badguy guns don't seem to be legally registered in the first place.

Effective enforcement of existing laws, I suggest, would go a great way toward lowering the violent crime rate.

Not that Florida has a good handle yet things like control of convicted pedophiles....

9:18 PM, April 29, 2005  

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