Posted on Wed, Apr. 06, 2005
House passes self-defense bill
Measure heads to Bush, who says he'll sign
By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT POLITICAL EDITOR
The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday for a self-defense bill aimed at letting armed citizens "stop violent crime in its tracks," removing the legal presumption that people should back away from deadly confrontations if they can.
Gov. Jeb Bush said he will sign the measure (SB 436) when it reaches his desk. He said some early concerns among state attorneys and law-enforcement agencies had been worked out in the legislative process.
Some urban Democrats offered a series of ill-fated amendments on the House floor, trying to limit the bill to people in their homes and cars. Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, futilely argued that allowing deadly force in a barroom brawl or street confrontation would result in innocent bystanders getting killed or maimed.
"For a House that talks about the culture of life, it is ironic that we are devaluing life as we are in this bill," Gelber said. "It legalizes dueling. It legalizes fighting to the point of death, without anybody having a duty to retreat."
But Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the bill would allow people only to use "appropriate" force.
"You can only do what somebody does to you," Baxley said. "What this does is allow law-abiding citizens to stop violent crime in its tracks."
The bill's protection would not apply to robbers, drug dealers or anyone else who might claim self defense while using a gun to defend a criminal activity. Shooting at police who properly identify themselves while entering a home or removing a driver from a car would also not be protected under the bill.
Passage was never in doubt. Overwhelming majorities in both chambers co-sponsored the bill, and the proposal cleared the Senate unanimously last week. The House voted 94-20 on it, with Reps. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee, and Will Kendrick, D-Carrabelle, all voting for it.
Baxley said members of the Florida Cabinet, the Florida Sheriffs Association, Police Chiefs Association and Florida Police Benevolent Association supported the bill. To speed the measure to Bush, the House substituted the Senate-passed version by Sen. Durrell Peaden, R-Crestview, for Baxley's identical House bill.
Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, warned that the bill "will possibly turn the state of Florida into the O.K. Corral." Rep. Joyce Cusack, D-DeLand, asked members to "think of the message that we are sending our children - that if you feel threatened, you can kill someone."
But supporters of the bill said the same arguments were heard in the late 1980s, when Florida adopted a law allowing law-abiding residents to get concealed-weapon permits. Despite predictions that crime would increase, backers of the new bill said the law has not resulted in wild shootouts.
"I think this bill values life," said Rep. Don Brown, R-Defuniak Springs. "It values my life when some criminal tries to impose his will on me."
Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said police and prosecutors could still apprehend people who use unreasonable force. "What is being removed is the duty to retreat," he said.
Bush said "we vetted the bill" and he was satisfied that it would not make Florida a dangerous place to live.
"I'm comfortable that the bill is a bill that relates to self-defense," Bush said. "It's a good common-sense, anti-crime issue."
Contact political editor Bill Cotterell at (850) 671-6545 or [email protected].