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Florida Lawmakers Expand Law to Kill in Self Defense

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The Florida legislature Tuesday passed a bill allowing people to use deadly force in a public place if they have a reasonable belief that they are in danger of death or great bodily harm. We host a debate between a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and the executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. [includes rush transcript]

A spate of high-profile gun shootings over the past few weeks have gripped the nation. In Chicago, the family of a federal judge was gunned down in her apartment. In Georgia, a man appearing in court on rape charges shot dead the presiding judge in his case and three others. In Wisconsin, a gunman opened fire at a church service killing seven including the church minister. And in the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota, a high-school student went on a shooting rampage killing ten people in the nation’s worst school shooting since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

Now, the argument being made by lawmakers around the country to prevent gun violence is–more guns. An article in this past weekend’s Sunday New York Times writes how the debate over guns has changed since the Columbine shootings. They write, “Those shootings inspired gun-control proposals in Congress and in state legislatures, and forced gun advocates to retreat from legislation they hoped to pass.” Six years later, efforts are being made to loosen gun control laws across the country.

Yesterday in Florida, the state legislature passed a bill allowing people to use deadly force in a public place if they have a reasonable belief that they are in danger of death or great bodily harm. The so-called “stand your ground” bill is on its way to Governor Jeb Bush who is expected to sign it.

Florida courts have already ruled that people can use deadly force to protect themselves in their homes without first trying to escape. But the courts have ruled that outside the home, victims must attempt to escape before using deadly force. This bill removes that requirement. Today we host a debate.

  • Marion Hammer , lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and the executive director of the United Sportsmen of Florida. She is the former president of the NRA.
  • Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we host a debate. Joining us on the phone is the chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, Marion Hammer. We are joined in our Tampa studio by Arthur Hayhoe, the executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Let’s begin with Marion Hammer. Can you talk about the bill, why you think it’s so important?

MARION HAMMER: The importance of this bill is to put things back the way they are supposed to be. The courts have manipulated the law into a position where the law favors criminals rather than victims and law abiding citizens because the law, as it was before the bill passed yesterday, said that inside your home, if someone breaks in in the middle of the night, you can only meet force with force, and then only if you reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. Well, in the middle of the night how are you supposed to know the intent of the intruder or what manner of force the intruder intends to use? You can’t say, “Wait a minute, intruder? Are you here to rape and murder me, or are you just here to beat me up and steal my TV set?” You have put the homeowner, who wants to protect himself and his family, in a distinct disadvantage. You are protecting criminals. That’s wrong. Out on the street, the courts have imposed a duty to retreat. That basically says if you are attacked, you have to try to turn around and run before defending yourself. When you turn your back on a criminal, you make yourself infinitely more vulnerable. If a rapist tries to drag you into an alley, if you are prepared to fight back and defend yourself, that’s your right. The bill we passed yesterday will allow you to decide whether or not you can get away or whether or not you’re safer if you stand your ground and fight. Taking away the rights of law-abiding people and putting them in jeopardy of being prosecuted and then sued by criminals who were injured when they were committing crimes against victims is wrong. This bill fixes all of that. It puts back the castle doctrine law with regard to your home, and it gives you the right to protect yourself and your family. And that’s all this bill does.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring in Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Your response.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: Well, I’d like to make it clear that I’m here to represent the innocent victims of this bill. And there will be many more innocent victims of this bill than there will be dead criminals. This bill is literally a jihad against public safety. There are three things you must understand if you want to understand what’s going on here. The first is about current law. Current law has been in effect for almost 25, 30 years. That law requires that you should retreat if you are able to, and the reason those laws were put into effect almost 30 years ago is too many Floridians were shooting each other, and they felt this would do fine. Now, this law has been in effect for 25 years. I haven’t heard any complaints from anyone. There’s nobody approached the legislature in the last 25, 30 years to do what was done just a few days ago. It’s just — the law has worked fine. The idea that you can’t defend yourself. The second idea is — the current law that you are — you know, you can’t defend yourself, you’re going to be attacked by criminals, this is completely untrue. When you do shoot somebody, the police ask you to set down and tell us what happened. The courts have always ruled in favor of the man that was defending himself. So, it’s not true that you cannot defend yourself for the current law. People have been doing it for almost 30 years.

MARION HAMMER: And people have been being arrested for protecting themselves, and there are many cases.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: Give us an example.

MARION HAMMER: And people have defended themselves. Well, I’ll give you two examples. During the hurricane season, a 77-year-old man in Pensacola and his wife were living in a FEMA trailer because their home had been damaged by the hurricane. A looter showed up on his property in the wee hours of the morning. The man tried to run him off. The looter forced his way into the trailer. He struggled with the old man. The old man shot and killed the looter, and prosecutors took three months to decide whether or not the to prosecute. I would suggest to you that the only reason they didn’t prosecute is because this bill was moving through the legislature. Just a couple of weeks ago in Perry, Florida, a man showed up after midnight screaming and yelling in front of a guy’s house, yelling for him to come out and fight. He wouldn’t come out and fight, so the guy broke in. They wrestled over a shotgun. The homeowner shot and killed the intruder. The homeowner was arrested. Those kinds of things happen day in and day out, not only around Florida, but around the nation. And for Mr. Hayhoe to suggest that people have been defending themselves and have not been prosecuted suggests that he hasn’t been listening to testimony on this bill. He hasn’t been listening to people who say that prosecutors use the duty to retreat to prosecute a lot of law abiding people.

AMY GOODMAN: Arthur Hayhoe.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: Let me jump in here and point out what the castle doctrine bill is going to do. In your house, you won’t have to retreat. You know, somebody breaks into your house, you know, you can apply deadly force. That’s fine. Who might be in your house besides the EMS, police officer, my nephew that has the key to my house? When you meet somebody in the middle of the dark in the house, are you going to say, “Did you break into my house?” No, he’s going to say, I’m going to repeat the NRA’s magic words, I felt threatened and I’m going to pull the trigger. What’s going to happen in cars? Now, a car is your castle. Does everyone approach your car going to be a criminal?

MARION HAMMER: Mr. Hayhoe needs to read the bill.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: What happens to a repo —

MARION HAMMER: It is when you are attacked. Somebody in your home who’s a relative —

ARTHUR HAYHOE: It doesn’t make any difference what the bill says. It doesn’t make any difference what the bill says. What you are doing here is empowering gun owners to act. All they’re going to hear —

MARION HAMMER: You don’t think — You don’t think that the law says — -

ARTHUR HAYHOE: All they’re going to hear is I don’t have to retreat, and if I feel threatened, I can pull the trigger. You’re going to create a lot of innocent victims.

MARION HAMMER: Mr. Hayhoe, that, sir, is your choice. You don’t have to use the deadly force.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: That’s fine. We don’t want to make victims. We want to get criminals.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the law in carrying concealed guns in this state?

ARTHUR HAYHOE: This is going to make a bonanza out of concealed carry.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask that question of Arthur Hayhoe.

MARION HAMMER: Well, he doesn’t know.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: There is a concealed weapons law. I have a concealed weapons license. Now, let me tell you after this bill is signed by the governor, all the gun owners out there are going to hear, I don’t have to retreat, and if I feel threatened, I can pull that trigger. Now, Marion Hammer, how many gun owners are there in Florida, 8 million, 6 million, 5 million?

MARION HAMMER: About 6 million. And their have been 6 million since day one.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: What kind of training — what kind of training — what kind of training are you going to give these people so they don’t create innocent victims? What kind of training?

MARION HAMMER: Mr. Hayhoe’s lack of faith in the people of the State of Florida dates back for a number of years. The same kind of claims about people being irresponsible were said in 1987, when the concealed carry law passed. They claimed it would be the old wild west. The same kind of thing that Mr. Hayhoe is claiming right now would happen —

ARTHUR HAYHOE: The concealed carry law is not the problem, Mary. The concealed carry law is not the problem.

MARION HAMMER: — has never happened. It has never happened.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: The concealed carry law is not the problem. I agree with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Okay. One at a time.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: The problem is that all of these people out there without concealed licenses, they have never had any training or nothing. All they’re going to read in the paper is that —

MARION HAMMER: They can’t carry guns, sir.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: — if I feel threatened, I can pull the trigger.

AMY GOODMAN: Marion Hammer, just a second.

MARION HAMMER: They can’t — people who do not have licenses cannot carry concealed without committing a felony.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: I didn’t say that. Of course, they can’t. There’s all kinds of people with guns in their homes and their cars. Marion, lots of people carry handguns in the vehicle compartment of their cars legally. Is this going to turn road rage into a new dimension?

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Marion Hammer —

MARION HAMMER: This is emotional hysterics that we hear from Mr. Hayhoe anytime a gun bill comes up.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: It doesn’t make any difference. What you do, Marion. You’ve opened Pandora’s box. You have taken the law from retreat, be careful. You cannot call that gun back. You have taken the law to if I feel threatened, I can pull the trigger.

MARION HAMMER: Mr. Hayhoe let’s do this again in ten years where you will be proven wrong again, just as you are now proven wrong, when you said that the same kinds of things when right to carry passed in 1987.


MARION HAMMER: It’s nothing but emotional hysterics.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to move on to the next bill now that is being considered in Florida, but I do want to ask Marion Hammer if the National Rifle Association considers this a good model for other states, and is pushing it in other state legislatures?

MARION HAMMER: The castle doctrine bill, the personal protection bill that we have just passed is indeed an outstanding model for other states, and other states are already looking at it.

ARTHUR HAYHOE: I want to thank you for being with us, Marion Hammer, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, and Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

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