Saturday, November 18, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Florida gun laws go from bad to worse

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There is a good reason why Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law another favor for the National Rifle Association without holding a news conference or issuing a press release explaining his reasoning. There is no rational defense for the latest revision to the "stand your ground" law. It appears to contain a flaw that could erode protections for people in their homes, makes gun laws even more confusing and closes public records that help hold police and the courts accountable. Other than that, it's wonderful public policy in a state saturated with guns.

Instead of repealing the 2005 "stand your ground" law that drug dealers, gang members and other criminals use to avoid being held accountable for shootings they initiate, the governor and Legislature made it worse. The original goal was to extend protection from prosecution to those who fire warning shots. Yet the new law also includes a confusing rewrite of the common law castle doctrine, which has long held that a person has no duty to retreat if there is a threat in his or her home.

The unintended change occurred in a 24-page amendment that the bill sponsor acknowledges he did not understand. It appears to change the standard for the right to use deadly force in your home. The standard had been if a person "reasonably believes it is necessary to do so" to prevent death, great bodily harm or commission of a forcible felony.

The new standard will be if an individual believes there is an "imminent threat.'' At worst, it could make it more difficult for homeowners to justify their actions in defending themselves in their homes. At best, it further confuses state law.

The law's other flaw is even clearer. It gives defendants in "stand your ground" cases who prevail the right to request all records of the incident be sealed from public view. That makes it impossible to duplicate a Tampa Bay Times investigation that uncovered instances when "stand your ground" was used to justify drug-related or gang shootings. It makes it harder to determine whether police or judges are unfairly applying the law to protect their friends or the powerful who are involved in shootings. And it erodes the public's right to know who has been involved in gun-related incidents and whether the shooters were justified or held accountable. It's not hard to imagine that the next ridiculous step will be to push for the sealing of all police and court records of any criminal investigations that do not result in convictions. This erosion of openness in the criminal justice system is not healthy for public safety or confidence in law enforcement.

None of that apparently mattered to Scott. Even if the original intent of the legislation was purely to help law-abiding Floridians who fire warning shots, it was badly flawed. Yet the governor signed it anyway, further muddying state law and making it even harder for the public to determine whether it is fairly applied.

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