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House OKs gun bill some label 'Wild West'
Bush vows quick draw on signature for gun bill
By Alan Gomez

Palm Beach Post - Capital Bureau
Wednesday, April 06, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush said he will soon sign into law the so-called "Castle Doctrine" bill - giving Floridians more discretion to shoot would-be attackers in their homes, vehicles and public places - after the state House approved it overwhelmingly Tuesday.

The Senate had passed the bill unanimously.

Where shots can ring out
Under the Castle Doctrine bill, people are allowed to shoot another person:
In their homes: A person can shoot if someone is either breaking into or has broken into his home. The bill explains that the possible victim in that case holds a 'reasonable fear of imminent peril or death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.'
In their vehicles: A person can shoot if someone is carjacking or trying to carjack his car. The bill explains that the possible victim 'had reason to believe that an unlawful forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.'
In a public place: A person can shoot if someone is either attacking or about to attack the person in any place the possible victim has a right to be. The bill overrides court rulings that people have a duty to retreat from such confrontations, and instead gives them the right to 'stand his or her ground and meet force with force.'

Having moved through the legislature like a rifle shot, the NRA-backed bill, which some say will create a Wild West, shoot-first mentality in Florida, could end up being the first substantive bill signed into law this session. That unchecked momentum stems in part, Democrats acknowledge, from their losses in the 2004 election and their perceptions about why they lost.

The measure (SB 436) not only garnered every Republican vote in both chambers but also had the support of all 14 Senate Democrats and 13 of 36 House Democrats. It passed 94-20 in the House, with three Republicans and three Democrats not voting.

"Even voters who are hurt by Republican economic policies vote Republican because they don't trust us on cultural wedge issues like gun control and religion," said Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres. "The voters stop listening to us and they don't even get to our economic issues. So we're trying to show that, if you are a gun owner, you are a Democrat too."

The top priority of the National Rifle Association in Florida this year, the measure makes it clear in state law what courts have generally ruled in Florida: There's no duty to retreat before fighting back if you're in your home, workplace or car. But it also extends the right outside the home, saying that "a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be, has no duty to retreat."

The bill says that person has "the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so, to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another."

The bill would make shooters in such situations immune from criminal prosecution and civil action.
The idea will legalize shootouts in the streets, opponents say.

"This bill creates a Wild, Wild West out there," said Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said, "I'm sorry people, but if I'm attacked, I shouldn't have a duty to retreat. That's a good way to get shot in the back."

Baxley said that, if people have the clear right to defend themselves without having to worry about the legal consequences, criminals will think twice before attacking someone.

"Some violent rape will not occur because somebody will feel empowered by this bill," Baxley said. "Somebody's child will not be abducted. ... You're going to prevent a murder." Bush, who has championed tougher penalties for people convicted of using guns in crimes, said he believes the measure is a good idea. "I'm comfortable that the bill is a bill that relates to self-defense," Bush said. "It's a good, common-sense, anti-crime issue."

A number of Democrats, some of whom call themselves Mainstream Democrats, also saw the bill as a way to continue redefining the party as one that values principles that Republicans have made their own, until recently: agendas that also include personal responsibility, efficient government and so-called moral values.

Although the bill "may go a little too far, it sends a message that Democrats believe in those same core values," said Rep. Will Kendrick, D-Carrabelle, a co-sponsor of the House version. "The majority of Democrats have gotten away from basic principles. They've realized they were way out in left field. I think some of them voted for this one in attempt to get back to a balance."

Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Tamarac, begrudgingly acknowledged that voters don't see Democrats as a pro-gun group but said he's never understood why that's the case. "We've never been away from the Second Amendment," Campbell said. But some think the Republicans are using that thinking to their advantage, forcing Democrats into voting for bills that they might oppose otherwise.

The gun bill, for example, was pushed through the legislature by Marion Hammer, the NRA lobbyist who recently was inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame and who Bush proudly said would be present at the bill's signing.

Rep. Richard Machek, D-Delray Beach, favored the home and vehicle portions of the bill but opposed the part that spills onto the streets. That forced him and other Democrats to decide whether they would cloak themselves in the Second Amendment, or risk the appearance of being against it.

"You don't have an option," said Machek, who voted for the bill. "The problem was, if I was voting against it, I was voting against protecting yourself in your home. I hope I did the right thing." Sen. Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, said that was an old Republican tactic. "That's what they do," Geller said. "They have cleverly packaged a bad bill inside mom's apple pie."

And still others believe that the issues of Mainstream Democrats and redefining the party and refocusing the minds of voters had nothing to do with the rapid success of the bill.

"The NRA is a very powerful lobby and a lot of members don't want to cross it," said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, who opposed the bill.

You gotta love Florida and Republicans
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