Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Wild, Wild East

[[L A W S]] * Be careful if you’re heading for the state of Florida at any time soon. As of today, Floridians are legally empowered to use force, including firearms, to protect themselves should they feel threatened. Backers of this new law, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), say that it sends a simple message: people do not have to worry about prosecution, if and when they feel it necessary to resort to force against prospective assailants. One of the legislation’s sponsors, Republican state Representative Dennis K. Baxley (who was a funeral director before entering politics), insists that his constituents need to be able to shoot first. “Running away is a good way to get shot in the back, raped, or otherwise harmed,” he tells the Los Angeles Times, adding: “We want people to know that the law contains a presumption that they have the right to protect themselves.” But opponents, such as Peter Hamm, communications director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, counter that Florida’s shoot-first law is “unlike any supposed self-defense statute in America. It empowers people who are on edge and have violent tendencies to presume a situation is dangerous to them that may not be.”

Amazingly enough, the L.A. Times reports, this so-called Stand Your Ground legislation whistled easily through the Florida Legislature last spring, and was signed by Republican Governor Jeb Bush. That was “despite opposition from some of the state’s police chiefs,” and regardless of concerns from other lawmakers, such as Democratic state Representative Eleanor Sobel, who says, “With this new law, people have an excuse to use guns and say it was in self-defense. If you get into an argument in traffic with somebody, you might assume he’s reaching for his gun, so I’ll get mine first.” Before this new law was passed, Sunshine Staters acting in self-defense were expected to employ reasonable means to escape danger, rather than meeting force with force.

Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, expects Florida’s acceptance of the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later philosophy to spread nationally. “I honestly think this will fly through the red [predominantly Republican] states,” LaPierre enthused to the Times. “I think the tailwind will push it through most of the blue [predominantly Democratic] states as well.” LaPierre claims lawmakers in Michigan and Alabama are actively interested in passing similar legislation.

Gun-control advocates, though, are hoping to convince others of the wrongheadness of this new legislation, in part by highlighting its potential impact on the big business of Florida tourism. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that the Brady Campaign plans to hand around fliers at the international airports in Miami and Orlando, warning travelers to take precautions that include: “Do not argue unnecessarily with local people.”

And here I thought Florida had already made that the law of the land, following its history-changing blunders in the 2000 presidential election.

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