After reports emerged this week that every single Florida state senator voted to pass what has become known as Florida’s state Stand Your Ground bill in 2005, then-Senate Democratic leader Les Miller said he regretted that vote more than any other he took in the Senate, and didn’t understand the law at the time.
“I’m not at an attorney,” Miller told the Tampa Bay Times. “So we relied on the advice of our staff and the lawyers in the caucus.” That advice, he said, was that the law would allow people to defend their homes and their cars – not to become vigilantes on the streets.
Had he known it would be used in street confrontations, he would not have voted for the bill, he suggested. “People are dying because of the ‘stand your ground’ law,” Miller said. “It was a bad bill.”
News reports and judicial analysis from the time suggest there were warnings about the law’s effects even before the law’s passage. But Miller’s comments reflect disagreement and confusion about the bill during debate, with some insisting it only protected the home and vehicle.
During a March 2005 floor debate on the law, Sen. Steve Geller (D) had warned, “Under the wording of this bill, somebody could go onto any of the streets and if they think somebody is walking toward them in a threatening fashion, they can pull out a gun and begin blasting away.”
But Sen. Durell Peaden Jr. (R) disputed that characterization, according to Associated Press coverage. “You have to be within the confines of the dwelling as described in this bill,” he said. “You just can’t shoot anybody on the street and drag ’em in.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s analysis at least warned of confusion, but focused most of its analysis on the statute’s protection for homes and vehicles. In its summary, it described the Senate bill as permitting “a person to use force, including deadly force, without fear of criminal prosecution or civil action for damages, against a person who unlawfully and forcibly enters the person’s dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle. Additionally, the committee substitute abrogates the common law duty to retreat when attacked before using force, including deadly force in self-defense or defense of others.” It makes no reference, however, to the scope of this second provision, or the use of the phrase, “any other place he or she has a right to be.” Toward the very end of its memo, it does flag confusion about the scope of the statute’s duty to retreat, noting:
The drafting of the committee substitute is somewhat confusing in the way that the Florida common law duty to retreat is completely abrogated. Existing s. 776.012, F.S., authorizes the use of force, including deadly force, in self-defense and defense of others. To this section, the committee substitute adds the sentence: “[A person] does not have a duty to retreat . . . under the circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013,” which is a new section created by the committee substitute. For the most part, s. 776.013, F.S., speaks to self-defense in a dwelling, place of temporary lodging, or a vehicle. Further, that section does not address the existence or non-existence of a duty to retreat in a dwelling, place of temporary lodging, or vehicle. Section 776.013(3), F.S., however, states that a person has no duty to retreat if attacked in “any other place.” The Legislature may wish to amend the committee substitute to eliminate the confusion.
Geller, who had previously warned about the potentially sweeping scope of the statute, did propose an amendment to remove the “any other place” language and limit the bill to home and vehicle protection. But that proposal was defeated. And then he and every other Democrat voted for the law anyway. “We’d be seen as Democrats soft on crime,” he explained after the vote.
Whether some legislators believed, as Miller contended, that the bill would be limited in scope to homes and vehicles is unclear. But an editorial in the Palm Beach Post described the situation this way: “It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to predict problems with Florida’s fast-tracked Make My Day Law. The Legislature didn’t notice potential problems because, as usual when the National Rifle Association wants something, the Legislature didn’t do a lot of thinking.”
That editorial warned, “When Make My Day is in force, individuals will practice the racial profiling police forces have tried to eliminate. More innocent people will get shot. Prosecutors and courts are going to have their hands tied.”