Editorial: Florida's land of fun, sun and guns

Published Sept. 26, 2016

It has come to this in gun-crazed Florida. The state has created such a Wild West atmosphere that gun owners are signing up for coaching and legal help so they can be prepared when they shoot someone. It is the disquieting but logical outcome in a state where the National Rifle Association virtually owns state government and the answer to any question about public safety is more guns.

An emerging industry that offers instructions to members for responding to police after they shoot someone, liability coverage and legal advice fuels a shoot-first mentality. With names like U.S. Concealed Carry and Second Call Defense, these membership groups provide advice like this nugget for calling 911 after a shooting: "I was attacked and was forced to defend myself. Please send the police and an ambulance.'' Then there is: "Call the USCCA to initiate your Self-Defense Shield.''

Translation: Don't worry about reaching for your gun because if you follow our instructions we will help you get away with killing someone.

SHOOT FIRST: 'Stand your ground' is now an industry

Nick Julian IV apparently knew the drill. As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Sara Dinatale reported, Julian shot and killed Carlos Garcia in Carrollwood after confronting Garcia for playing loud music from his car stereo around 2 a.m. one early morning in September 2015. Julian twice went outside to confront Garcia before going out a third time with a semiautomatic pistol. He told a 911 operator that he shot Garcia " 'cause he charged me and I was in fear of my life.'' He called the U.S. Concealed Carry Association before Garcia was even declared dead. The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office investigated, but Julian was never charged with a crime.

The American Bar Association has not examined these self-defense insurance groups that give out legal advice, but it should. They appear to be a growth industry, and the Julian shooting is the predictable result of easily available guns and NRA-backed laws that make it too easy to avoid criminal charges.

Florida's 2005 "stand your ground" law changed the legal landscape and opened the floodgates. It eliminated the duty of armed citizens to retreat from harm's way before using deadly force, extending the so-called castle doctrine beyond one's home. It does not say it cannot be used by people who put themselves in harm's way or initiate a confrontation. It does say a citizen "has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.'' A 2012 Tampa Bay Times study found the law was regularly used in drug deals gone bad, situations involving fights at bars or parties and in neighborhood disputes.

Despite overwhelming evidence the "stand your ground law" is loosely applied in all sorts of avoidable situations, state legislators, under the watchful eye of the NRA, have repeatedly refused to repeal it. Add to that a 2008 law that prohibits businesses from firing workers with concealed weapons permits who keep their gun locked in their car in the company parking lot. Add to that more than 1.6 million concealed weapons permits issued by this state. Add to that the NRA's efforts to persuade the Legislature to allow the open-carry of firearms everywhere and firearms on college campuses, which both passed the House this year and, thankfully, died in the Senate.

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The predictable result: A gun culture that encourages deadly shootings over loud car stereos and emerging business models that make money coaching gun owners on to how to respond after they kill someone. Welcome to Florida, land of fun, sun and guns.