Florida Senate Passes Series Of Gun-Related Bills

Jan 28, 2016

The Florida Senate passed a series of gun bills Thursday.

Backyard Gun Ranges

The first measure Senators unanimously passed is by Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples). It has the backing of the National Rifle Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

“Senate Bill 130 affirmatively declares that discharging a firearm in a residential area with a density of one resident to the acre or greater is a misdemeanor,” he said. “It provides for two exceptions: one if the firearm is discharged by a person lawfully defending life or property and second, if the discharge does not pose a reasonable foreseeable risk to life, safety, or property.”

That second exception, for example, would apply in cases where someone shoots a poisonous snake in their yard. Accidental discharges are also included.

The bill’s overall aim is to crack down on makeshift backyard gun ranges, and to allow law enforcement to enforce criminal penalties. Violators could face up to a year in jail and a 1-thousand dollar fine.

10-20-Life Law Changes

Another bill that received a unanimous vote aims to make changes to Florida’s 10-20-Life law. It’s by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville).

“We’ve put a lot of people away for using guns in the commissions of crimes, but that bill was never intended to criminalize defending yourself,” said Bean. “So, what this bill does, it’s a repealer bill. Senate Bill 228 repeals aggravated assault. So, aggravated assault—if you’re convicted of aggravated assault—would be removed from the 10-20-Life provision.”

In other words, the measure eliminates the possibility of someone getting a minimum mandatory sentence as a penalty for aggravated assault cases. For example, there are some cases where a person making a self-defense claim is serving 20 years in prison for threatening to use force. But, Bean says his measure looks forward, and does not apply retroactively.

Stand Your Ground-related bill

Another bill by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) was more controversial, dividing Republicans and Democrats—a measure making changes to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law’s immunity hearing process.

“This bill shifts the burden of proof from the defendant to the prosecution in justifiable use of force pre-trial immunity hearings,” said Bradley.

Currently, a person making a self-defense claim must prove their claim is justified to a judge, to avoid a trial. But, under Bradley’s bill, it shifts that burden to the prosecutors.

The measure is in a response from a decision by a majority of the Florida Supreme Court justices months ago that states that burden should stay with the defendant. But, Bradley’s measure stems from the dissenting opinion.

And, Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) says that makes no sense.

“Immunity is such….you are stopping a trial,” he said. “So, if you’re going to stop a trial, then you should have the burden. Now, it was alluded to that two people on the Supreme Court disagreed and they wrote the dissent. But, when I was in law School, what we called the dissent is what the law is not.”

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) is also against the bill.

“This bill further enhances the risk that a killer will be able to evade justice and never properly face the full investigation on trial because it potentially stops an investigation cold, after the last man standing tells his side of the story,” said Joyner. “The dead do not have the opportunity to rebut the tale told by the survivor.”

But, Bradley says lawmakers have a duty to pass this bill to strengthen the intent behind Stand Your Ground.

“One thing that I thought the left and right on the political spectrum always agreed upon is the concept that you’re innocent until proven guilty,” said Bradley. “And, it’s a fundamental tenet of our criminal justice system that the state has the burden of proof in a criminal prosecution from beginning to end. So, I simply suggest that we’re getting it right today, that the dissent was correct. And, we’re going to bring full meaning and effect to the 2005 law that was passed dealing with justifiable use of force.”

And, the bill passed the Senate 24 to 12 with Democrats opposed.

Meanwhile, its House companion failed on a 6-6 vote during its first committee hearing. It’s uncertain what will happen with the bills moving forward.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.