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New bipartisan bill protects Fla. gun owners, sails through committee

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A bipartisan bill that would rein in prosecutions of those who display guns in defending themselves under the state’s 10-20-life law sailed through its first committee stop Thursday, backed by the state’s public defenders and gun rights groups.

House Bill 89, sponsored by Neil Combee, R-Polk City, and Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, would give immunity to people who use the threat of a gun to halt an attack on themselves or their property.

It passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on a 12-1 vote, with only Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, voting against it.

Groups with representatives speaking in favor of the bill included the National Rifle Association, Florida Carry, Families Against Minimum Sentences, and the Florida Public Defenders Association.

The law requires mandatory sentences covering the use of a firearm by a criminal. A minimum 10-year sentence is required for displaying a firearm during a crime, a 20-year sentence for shooting, and a 25-year to life sentence for shooting someone, regardless of whether the shooting is fatal.

Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Tallahassee lobbyist, said the 10-20-life law passed in 1998 is being misused by prosecutors who are making criminals out of people who should never have been arrested for trying to defend themselves or their families.

“The intent of 10-20-life is being violated,” she said during the public comment period before the committee voted.

The law was intended to cut out easy plea bargains for criminals who use guns, not the victims of crime, she said.

“The NRA was part of passing the law, so I know what was intended and why,” she said.

In an interview after the committee meeting, Hammer said errant prosecutions started appearing about 2005, under the direction of prosecutors who weren’t in office when the law was originally passed.

Why would they be using a law passed to protect victims of crime against those who used firearms to protect themselves?

“Because they can,” she said.

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