JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - One of the new bills making its way through Tallahassee this year is what’s being commonly referred to as the “warning shots” bill, which would allow Floridians to display a firearm or fire a shot to ward off an attacker in a case of self-defense.
The bill essentially seeks to clarify Florida’s self-defense laws, including “stand your ground,” as Stacey Scott, the public defender for the 8th Judicial Circuit, told a Senate panel earlier this month.
WOKV News is in contact with Republican Representative Charles McBurney and Democratic Senator Audrey Gibson on the bill. McBurney is Chairman of the Florida House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, which is where the bill is heading next. Gibson is on the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which just voted the bill on to the Judiciary Committee.
“It looks like all it does is clarify self-defense to include threatened use of force as opposed to actual use of force,” McBurney says.
“Right now, under the applicable statute, actual use of force is a defense. But the threatened use of force is not a defense,” he says. “It appears to clarify actually what most people assume already is a defense.”
He doesn’t think it will lead to more violence.
“If anything, it would increase safety rather than decrease safety,” he says.
McBurney sees this as legislation that’s being brought in to “clarify what appears to be a glitch in the law.”
“One of the things that we don’t want to do is to encourage people to just brandish a firearm willy nilly,” Sen. Gibson says. “I don’t think we want anymore Wild Wild West type of legislations passed in the state of Florida.”
Sen. Gibson says the bill is still a work in progress. She says she voted for it in committee under the stipulation that the bill sponsor, Sen. Greg Evers, would do some tweaking.
“One of the questions that I had was, is it the same thing if you go get a gun and come back and shoot it in the air, as it is if you’re carrying a gun already and you shoot it in the air. They weren’t quite clear on the answer to that.”
Sen. Gibson says she supports the bill “to the extent that it incorporates an intent by the legislature to send a message to state attorneys that certain things should not rise to a level of a minimum mandatory sentence charge, which then ties the judge’s hands on how they try the case and what the minimum sentence could be.”
Gibson says the problem is the filing of the charges.
“I think the bill sponsor’s idea is that if you don’t have something in place that tells a state attorney ‘you need to file it this way so that you don’t put somebody in a position where they have a minimum mandatory for doing something that was warning somebody’ – which is really the crux of the whole thing - then we’re gonna have more Marissa Alexander cases.”