State News
7:07 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

Warning Shot Bill Passes House; Attempt To Repeal Stand Your Ground Fails

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While the "warning shot" bill got teed up for a vote in the Senate, a couple of gun-related measures have already passed the full House as of Thursday. But after a dust-up between lawmakers, a revived attempt to repeal Florida’s Stand Your Ground law failed again.

NRA's Busy Week

It’s been a busy week for National Rifle Association’s Marion Hammer. She’s been lobbying the Legislature on bills, from the bipartisan tweak of Stand Your Ground to allowing gun owners to carry their firearms without a permit during a state of emergency or mandatory evacuation.

It’s just the third week of session, and already a bill enhancing the penalties against insurance companies who discriminate against gun owners has passed the full Senate.

And Hammer says there’s more to follow in both chambers.

“Part of the bills deal with making corrections that the governor’s task force recommended with regard to 10-20-life. There’s another bill moving that will protect children from school administrators that seem to lack common sense. It’s legislation that’s about protecting the people from people who are actually supposed to be looking out for us,” Hammer says.

'Pop Tart' Bill

One of the first gun bills the House easily voted on Thursday is a measure aimed at revising schools’ zero tolerance policies concerning guns and kids. Currently, a student could face a suspension or a juvenile record for wearing clothes with a firearm or simulating a firearm with their finger. Its House sponsor is Ocala Republican Representative Dennis Baxley.

“It takes our zero-tolerance policy and lays down a layer of common sense protection to apply this policy regarding specific behaviors, so we move in a direction of not sending kids away from school with suspension, expulsion, etc. and keep them in school and learning,” said Baxley.

Warning Shot Bill

The measure passed the House 98-17 with no debate, but it was vote a on the so-called Warning Shot bill that grew contentious. Conformed now to the Senate bill, the House measure seeks to clarify the existing self-defense law by allowing for the display of a weapon or firing of a warning shot in a situation where someone feels they’re in danger. A person whose case was found not guilty or had their case dismissed would also be eligible to have their record expunged.

The bill by Polk City republican Representative Neil Combee is also aimed at getting rid of the unintended consequences of Florida’s 10-20-Life law. So, it allows defendants to avoid a minimum mandatory sentence in aggravated assault cases if they had what’s called “a good faith” belief that they were justified in threatening to use force, wasn’t committing a crime, and didn’t pose a threat to the public safety of others.

It’s inspired by Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who fired a warning shot during an alleged domestic violence dispute with her husband. She had claimed self-defense, but a judge said it didn’t apply. And, she was charged with aggravated assault and received a 20 year prison sentence.

Stand Your Ground Repeal Fails

That latter part of the bill was offered in an amendment by Fort Walton Beach Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, which was adopted Wednesday, and the next day, when the measure came up for an actual vote, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston tried to tack on an amendment of his own to repeal Stand Your Ground. He says it’s sending the wrong message at the wrong time.

“We’re indicating that firing a warning shot is okay in an atmosphere where we just saw individuals killed for walking through a neighborhood, riding in a car with music too loud, we’ve seen individuals shot in a movie theater for texting…,” said Thurston.

More than a quarter of the House members signed on as co-sponsors of the "Warning Shot" bill, which includes several Democrats. One Democrat is even a main sponsor of the bill. And, Tallahassee Democratic Representative Alan Williams is a co-sponsor as well. His attempt to repeal Stand Your Ground failed last year.

At the time, Thurston had backed the bipartisan tweak of Stand Your Ground over the repeal. So, when Thurston introduced his amendment to repeal the controversial law, several Republicans were upset. That includes Representative Gaetz, who had taken up the repealer bill in the committee he chairs last year. The bill was defeated with most Democrats voting alongside Republicans.

“I look for every opportunity to be bipartisan, and I don’t know that there’s a more bipartisan outcome when every Republican and a majority of Democrats say that Floridians who are under attack shouldn’t have a duty to turn her back and run,” said Gaetz.

But, Thurston says if Gaetz had been amenable to hearing the bipartisan tweak or a Democratic-sponsored measure looking at revising Florida's 10-20-Life law, he would not have pursued this amendment. However, since that hasn’t happened, Thurston says he hopes they could do something on the floor.

“We think that the state of Florida deserves better. We think that we should be looking at how to make this law better. If that means, starting over and do it better and craft it and do it the right way. Then we should repeal it, and start all over,” said Thurston.

Still, the amendment failed 33-83. And, when the so-called Warning Shot bill came up for an actual vote, it passed 93-24 with most Democrats opposed, including Thurston.

Meanwhile, after some discussion on the so-called Warning Shot bill Thursday, the Florida Senate is now poised to vote on the bill as early as next week.

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