Thursday, April 26, 2018
Public safety

Stand Your Ground, Pop-Tart gun measures clear Florida House

TALLAHASSEE — A pair of high-profile, NRA-supported gun bills won the support of the Florida House on Thursday.

One proposal seeks to extend "stand your ground" immunity to people who fire a warning shot or threaten to use other deadly force in cases of self-defense.

The second bill would prevent children from facing severe punishments for playing with simulated weapons in schools. It specifically permits the use of pastries as pretend pistols.

The so-called Pop-Tart bill (HB 7029) passed by a 98-17 vote. Only Democrats voted against it.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican sponsoring the bill, said the measure would bring "common sense" back to zero-tolerance discipline policies in school.

But no other member of the House spoke to support or to oppose the bill, named for the case of a Maryland boy who was suspended for munching his breakfast treat into the shape of a gun. During a Democratic caucus meeting Wednesday, House Minority Leader Perry Thurston said he was going to vote against the bill because it wasn't necessary and wondered why it had cleared committees without opposition from Democrats.

Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, responded that it was needed because students are expelled all the time for "silly things."

"Even though (the bill) was NRA supported, we felt it had merit," Fullwood told Thurston.

Another bill with broad Democratic support, again to the chagrin of Thurston and other Democratic leaders, passed as well. Dubbed the "warning-shot" bill, HB 89 would allow people with clean criminal records to fire a warning shot or threaten to use deadly force in cases of self-defense. It passed 93-24, with only Democrats voting against it.

Supporters say the proposal could provide a better application of the "stand your ground" law in cases like the one of Marissa Alexander. The Jacksonville woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison after firing a shot at her estranged husband. An appeals court has ordered her to have a new trial.

But while one out of every five House Democrats signed on to become a co-sponsor of the bill, first sponsored by Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, other Democrats resisted the urge to join Republicans.

Thurston of Fort Lauderdale filed an amendment Thursday morning that would repeal the "stand your ground" law after he objected to the discussion of the bill on the House floor during a debate Wednesday.

He said the law's scope was being expanded too soon after the high-profile shootings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

"This is the wrong message we're sending at the wrong time," Thurston said. "We do have an opportunity to do it over."

Thurston's amendment failed 83-31, with 12 Democrats voting against it. No Republican voted for it.

"We should repair this bill, we should clarify it," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. "But I don't think it's an answer to throw it all out."

The warning shot bill is expected to be voted on next week in the Senate; the Pop-Tart measure is still moving through the committee process in the upper chamber.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, was able to pass an amendment adopted on Wednesday that would, among other things, expunge the criminal records in "stand your ground" cases where the charges are dropped.

Supporters of the amendment included NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer.

"If you didn't do anything wrong, why should you have a record that you did?" Hammer said. "Why would the public need to know that? A person's right under the Constitution is to be free of persecution, so it's not right that you could be persecuted because of something that is inaccurate, for something that you didn't do."

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Published: 04/26/18