A bill backed by the National Rifle Association to protect Florida gun owners who display their weapon or fire a warning shot to deter an attacker sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote Wednesday.
The bill, SB 448, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, is aimed at ending the threat of prosecution for those protecting themselves or their families as one of the “unintended consequences” of the state’s 10-20-Life law, supporters said.
While Florida’s “stand your ground” law allows people to use deadly force if they are attacked, the 10-20-Life law requires a minimum sentence of 10 years if a firearm is used or displayed during a crime, 20 years if the gun is fired, and a 20 years to life sentence if someone is injured in the shooting.
The new bill “makes clear the original intent of 10-20-Life was to punish [criminals],” said Eric Friday, an attorney for the gun rights group Florida Carry. “It was never intended to apply to those who were attempting to act in self-defense.”
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer told the committee the bill would “stop prosecutors who are violating the intent of 10-20-Life.”
The NRA supported 10-20-Life when it was passed in 1998, Hammer said.
“We never would have supported a bill that would allow prosecutors to prosecute someone acting in self-defense,” she said. “A threat to use deadly force to stop a deadly assault is self-defense.
“Some prosecutors abuse their discretion … We hope this bill will put a stop to that.”
Bill Cervone, state attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit and president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said his group wasn’t opposed to the bill, but tried to defend prosecutors as “making difficult choices” in determining whether a charge should be filed. He said supporters of the bill made it sound like the state was rife with “renegade prosecutors” taking advantage of the law to put innocent people in prison.
“Place don’t characterize all of Florida’s prosecutors as some sort of renegades,” he said. “We’re trying to do the best we can.”
Evers acknowledged that, but said the law has hurt innocent people.
“There needed to be a bill like this,” he told Cervone.
The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, was more adamant.
“There are people in our prisons right now that have never shot anybody,” Combee said. “When did this start marking sense?”