‘Stand Your Ground’ Change Still Alive
A senator sponsoring a National Rifle Association-backed change to the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law intends to try to keep the proposal alive after a similar measure died in the House.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Wednesday he will continue to push his proposal (SB 344), which could make it easier legally for people to claim self-defense in shooting incidents. A similar bill (HB 169) failed Tuesday in a 6-6 vote in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, as ties kill legislation.
“Everything is in play until Sine Die,” said Bradley, referring to the Latin phrase for “without day” that marks the end of a legislative session. “I wouldn’t describe anything as being the end of the road. … This is good legislation by the Senate.”
The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday voted 5-1 to approve Bradley’s bill, which is filed for the 2016 legislative session. The bill was approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee last month.
The measure would shift the burden of proof to the state in cases involving Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which says people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.
The bill was crafted after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that people who use the “stand your ground” defense have the burden of showing they should be shielded from prosecution. In such cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants are immune from prosecution under the law. The bill calls for placing the burden of proof on prosecutors in the evidentiary hearings.
Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando attorney who cast the lone vote against the bill Wednesday, called the proposal an “unprecedented burden shift.”
“It doesn’t even change it from preponderance of evidence to the prosecution side, but rather beyond a reasonable doubt,” Soto said. “I believe it’s going well beyond what the original stand-your-ground-bill was intended for.”
But subcommittee Chairman Sen. Joe Negron said the proposal is intended to “clarify” the law, and he disagreed that the measure would create any additional burden on prosecutors.
“If a prosecutor cannot get a judge to say that in this particular case self-defense wasn’t used, they’re not going to win a jury trial in the real world,” said Negron, an attorney from Stuart.
Open Carry Bill Survives Showdown
Floridians with concealed-weapons licenses are closer to being able to openly carry handguns, though they might be limited to doing so in places where they are welcomed.
The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday narrowly backed a controversial measure (HB 163) that would allow the 1.45 million people in Florida with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry.
The 7-6 vote — a pair of Pinellas County Republicans joined four Democrats in opposition — came after language was attached to the bill that is intended to protect businesses and private property owners who don’t want people to openly carry on their premises.
Bill sponsor Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said after the meeting that he’s also willing to study language — sought by some lawmakers and law enforcement — to require people who openly carry to use holsters or some other means to secure guns.
“I want to research the impact that that has on public safety and the extent to which that burdens people’s rights that we’re attempting to vindicate,” Gaetz said.
The measure, which has now cleared two House committees, is backed by gun-rights groups and is opposed by a majority of Florida’s sheriffs.
The Second Amendment advocacy group Florida Carry, in urging members to contact subcommittee members prior to the meeting, painted the proposal as restoring “our natural right of self-defense!”
Florida Carry attorney Eric Friday said he has represented “multiple” people with concealed-weapons licenses who have been arrested because they inadvertently displayed what were thought to be hidden weapons.
Also, Liberty County Sheriff Nick Finch said the state needs to give citizens every opportunity to defend themselves, “especially in the times we’re living in.”
“Look at what happened in Paris, France,” Finch said. “Nobody was armed, so there is a lot of dead folks. It’s ugly, but that’s the facts.”
But Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, representing the Florida Sheriffs Association, criticized the measure for failing to include regulations about holsters or additional weapons training for license holders.
He said the measure could create confusion for first responders and disputed that individual rights are changed by approving or dismissing the proposal.
“There is nothing in this bill that affects anyone’s constitutional right to bear arms,” said Gualtieri, who noted that 47 of the state’s 67 sheriffs are opposed to the current legislation.
Opponents also argued the bill would hurt tourism and create public-safety issues.
“I buy the argument that this is a top-down bill and not one that cries out from the public for change,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “I still don’t get it, how does bringing more guns to a fight bring more safety?”
The News Service of Florida