self defense

Joe Henderson: Lawmakers seizing chance to expand gun use under cover of “Stand Your Ground”

in Statewide by

Numerous studies have shown Florida’s gun-totin’ “stand your ground” law doesn’t work.

The Journal of American Medical Association recently reported, “The removal of restrictions on when and where individuals can use lethal force was associated with a significant increase in homicide and homicide by firearm in Florida.”

By significant, it meant a 24.4 percent increase in homicides and a 31.6 percent jump in gun-related killings from 2005 through 2014.

Opponents have attacked the study as flawed.

Here is what’s really flawed.

Since this is Florida, a woman named Marissa Alexander, who obviously should have had the legal shield of “stand your ground” was initially sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2011 for firing a gun at her then-husband during a domestic dispute. It was not the first time the couple quarreled, and her attorney argued she had been the victim of abuse.

But even though Alexander fired what essentially was a warning shot and she didn’t hit him, a judge ruled that she didn’t meet the burden of proof that her life was in danger. Her original sentence was over-turned on appeal and she has since been freed, but not until she spent nearly six years in custody.

Obviously, she never should have been sent to prison. She has a legitimate reason to lobby, as she has, for a change currently sailing through the Legislature. It essentially would reverse a state Supreme Court ruling that shooters have to prove they were in grave danger. Prosecutors would now have to prove a shooter didn’t feel threatened instead of the other way around.

Had that change been in place six years ago, Alexander likely would never have spent a day behind bars.

Beware of unintended consequences though.

Assuming this seismic shift in SYG becomes the law and survives court challenges, it opens the floodgates for others to shoot first and claim fear later. Shooters wouldn’t have to prove their life was in danger. They would just have say they thought it was.

What possibly could go wrong?

A judge in the highly publicized case of SYG recently ruled that retired police officer Curtis Reeves couldn’t prove lethal force was necessary when he shot and killed Chad Oulson during an argument at a movie theater.

Under this change, the judge probably would have had no choice but to side with Reeves. How would a prosecutor even try to prove that someone wasn’t afraid for their life?

As Jim Rosica of Florida Politics reported, Democrats are railing against the change. He quoted Rep. Kamia Brown, an Orlando Democrat, as saying domestic abusers might see this as a green light “to finish the job.”

She added, “Why not go all the way … there won’t be anyone around to dispute” that the shooter wasn’t standing their ground.

Instead of tweaking the law to cover situations like the one Alexander faced, lawmakers appear determined to seize the chance to expand gun use in Florida.

Surprised?

Didn’t think so.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.