The so-called “Warning Shot” bill is heading to the Governor’s desk, after the Senate passed the measure Thursday. But, debate grew heated as some Democrats tried—and failed—to amend the bill.
Baker Republican Senator Greg Evers’ bill is aimed at legally allowing people to threaten the use of force when they believe they’re in danger. That includes firing a warning shot, as in the case of Marissa Alexander. She’s the Jacksonville woman, who fired the shot during a dispute with her husband. She had initially claimed self-defense, a judge said it didn’t apply, and she was sentenced to 20 years in prison under Florida’s 10-20-Life law.
The law requires lengthy prison terms for felony firearm convictions, and Evers says it wasn’t meant to be used in self-defense cases.
“This bill fixes a problem with the inappropriate 10-20-Life sentences when law abiding citizens are defending themselves. The current law does not regulate the threatened use of force. This bill does just that. The bill has a record expunction process for a person charged with a criminal offense, but later found to have acted in lawful self-defense.”
And, it’s that particular provision that troubles Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith.
“If someone is innocent and found innocent, that’s great, but we need to know those types of things. We need to know for future legislatures that okay, it’s been used, we passed this law, and we’re tracking it. This is how it’s being used. This is how it’s being misused. This is how it’s being misinterpreted,” said Smith.
He says in the way lawmakers realized the unintended consequences of the 10-20-Life law because of several court cases, it doesn’t make any sense to keep those records sealed from public viewing.
“I wish FDLE would keep stats or someone would keep stats, so we can track it. But, the only way we were able to track it, to have any debate, is a newspaper had to go in and track it,” added Smith.
Still, the amendment failed, and Smith says the unamended bill will encourage people to fire warning shots.
“We all know what the public is going to hear today. We all know that they’re two magic words that the public is going to hear: warning shot. That’s what they’re going to hear, no matter how we spin it,” stated Smith.
Democrats were split on the bill. Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson says she supports the measure for several reasons, including one main reason.
“It’s not a fix for Stand Your Ground, and I know that. But it does include judicial discretion, and I think that is an important element in this bill that I think will be helpful down the road for people of color and people not of color in this state,” said Gibson.
But, Tampa Democratic Senator Arthenia Joyner says this makes her recall the time when she was in the Legislature at the time Stand Your Ground became Florida law, and she gave a warning.
“And I said then, it was opening Pandora’s Box, and in that box, there would be death for someone—not realizing that my words at that time were prophetic because it has happened. We say threaten use of force, but in effect, it is a warning shot. My greatest fear is that there would be many unintended consequences in an effort to roll back what has happened to someone or what could possibly happen in the future, I think we’re opening the door for more things to happen for people in the future,” said Joyner.
But, Evers, the bill’s sponsor, disagrees.
“This bill, if you’ll read it, doesn’t say anything about a warning shot. What this bill does is say if you are threatened, you can use equal or threaten use of force to protect yourself. This is about self-defense. This is about the right thing to do,” said Evers.
And, the bill passed the Senate 32-7 with Lutz Republican Senator John Legg voting alongside about half the Democrats in opposing the bill. Since the measure passed the House week ago, it now heads for Governor Rick Scott’s signature.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.