Florida Senate Approves “Warning Shot” Bill

The Florida Senate approved a bill last Thursday, dubbed the “Warning Shot Bill”, that would allow gun owners to fire warning shots at a person, or persons, if they felt threatened. The bill passed with a 32-7 vote and now goes to to desk of Florida Governor Rick Scott to be signed into law.

Partly inspired by the case of Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman sentence to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her husband during a domestic altercation, the Warning Shot Bill is the first attempt to revise or clarify Florida’s controversial self-defense laws since the 2012 shooting and death of Trayvon Martin.

Alexander had tried unsuccessfully to use Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” as her defense. Rejected on the grounds that she didn’t actually shoot her husband, Alexander was sentenced under Florida Statute 775.087, also known as the “10-20-Life” law, which lays out mandatory minimum sentences for the presence of guns in certain circumstances.

Under 10-20-Life, a 10 year minimum sentence is imposed if someone simply shows a gun during the commission of certain felonies. The firing of a gun will garner a 20 year sentence, while shooting someone is a mandatory 25 years to life. The Warning Shot Bill would allow for the threatened use of force without falling under the sentencing guidelines of 10-20-Life.

As reported by the Daily News, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer and other supporters of the Warning Shot Bill note that 10-20-Life wasn’t intended for self-defense cases:

“This is an important bill because it stops the abuse of 10-20-life and keeps prosecutors from using it against people who use lawful self-defense. 10-20-life is not about self-defense. Self-defense is a constitutional right. 10-20-life was passed to stop prosecutors and judges from slapping gun-wielding criminals on the wrist and giving them reduced sentences or probation.”

However, Sen. Chris Smith (R-Fort Lauderdale) and other opponents of the bill point out that the Warning Shot Bill could cause some gun owners to be trigger-happy in unnecessary situations, feeling justified under the law.

“There’s two magic words the public’s going to hear — warning shot. I just don’t think it’s responsible right now to encourage people to give warning shots — in the air, in a crowd or wherever.”

Sen. Greg Evers, who sponsored the bill, is against the use of the phrase “warning shot” in regards to the bill.

“This bill, if you read it, does not say anything about a warning shot,” Evers said. “What this bill does, it says, if you are threatened you can use equal or threatened use of force to protect yourself. This is about self-defense. This is about the right thing to do.”

The Warning Shot Bill wasn’t the only legislation approved by the Florida Senate approved Thursday, as they voted unanimously to pass commercial parasailing regulations following a series of accidents.