The bill to expand Florida’s notorious Stand Your Ground law became law Friday, after Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a measure that immunizes individuals who fire or point a gun in self-defense or as a “warning” from criminal penalty.
The National Rifle Association-backed bill extends Stand Your Ground-like protections to those who point a gun at an attacker or fire a gun as a self-defense threat or warning, expanding the scope of the discretion judges and juries retain to exempt shooters from criminal charges for gun violence. The bill gained traction after Republicans exploited the outrage over the 20-year prison sentence for Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot during an altercation with her abusive husband. The bill was then dubbed the “warning shot” bill, because a judge rejected Alexander’s move to invoke the law. But opponents were quick to point out that injustice in Alexander’s case hinged in large part on a draconian mandatory minimum sentence that required the 20-year prison term, insensitivity to domestic violence, and racial disparities that are already baked into the existing Stand Your Ground law.
The law is likely to expand immunity for violent conduct in as vague and sweeping a manner as Florida’s existing Stand Your Ground law, and could represent the newest mechanism for encouraging even more vigilantism. The bill nonetheless flew through the legislature in less than two months, while bills to limit the original Stand Your Ground provision foundered more than two years after the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin made the law famous. In fact, the NRA continued its lobbying on the warning shot bill even as trial was underway for the killing of another Florida 17-year-old, Jordan Davis.
The final bill also includes an amendment that makes records in Stand Your Ground cases secret, by sealing records when charges are dropped, and expunging records when defendants are granted immunity. The effect will be that media outlets and researchers seeking to document the impact of the law will not have access to the records. In opposing the provision, the Tampa Bay Times pointed out that if this law were in effect in 2012, it would never have been able to conduct its comprehensive survey of cases that found Stand Your Ground was applied inconsistently and led to disparate results.
Other studies have found that Stand Your Ground provisions are associated with a significant increase in homicides, have a disproportionate impact on African Americans, and do not appear to deter crime at all. But a state panel to identify flaws in the law that was stacked by Scott with many of its original proponents did not even consider these studies before endorsing most of the existing law.