In December 1983, Middlesex County, N.J., discontinued a policy that allowed police officers to fire warning shots at fleeing or aggressive suspects. The county was the only one in the state of New Jersey, and one of the last in the country, to permit such firearm discharges, which are considered too potentially dangerous to third parties to allow law officers to use.
Today, police departments across the country prohibit officers from firing into the air to deter suspects, for fear an innocent bystander might wind up injured or dead.
That includes Florida, where soon, with the stroke of Gov. Rick Scott’s pen, gun owners could get the green light to wave their guns in the air, and fire away, to “warn” off anyone they believe is threatening them. And as with everything related to the state’s notorious Stand Your Ground law, “threatening” is strictly in the eye of the gun owner.
Soon, any act of bad manners could result in the barrel of a gun being stuck in your face. And as the country now knows, based on the data since Stand Your Ground was signed by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005, gun owners are quite often given the benefit of the doubt by juries when they deem someone to be “threatening,” particularly if the alleged “threatener” is black or brown.
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And since those statistics are potentially bad for Florida’s image, (think tourism) Florida’s crack legislators have come up with a fix. The new law would cause any record of a “warning shot” incident to be expunged if the gun toter successfully used the “Threatened Use of Force” statute in court. Voila! No nasty stats to determine if the law results in more dangerous incidents, or in bolder, jumpier gun owners whipping out their 9mms at the slightest provocation.
Those pushing this latest goody for Marion Hammer and the NRA want you to believe they wrote this law for Marissa Alexander, the mother of three who faces a 60-year prison sentence under the state’s 10-20-Life law, if Jacksonville prosecutor Angela Corey succeeds in convicting her for a second time on three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, for firing what Alexander said was a warning shot at her abusive husband.
In reality, it isn’t even clear that Alexander could avail herself of the new law, assuming Scott signs it, since her charges came before it was written. And an appeals court threw out her original conviction under existing law.
Meanwhile, only in Florida would lawmakers seek to resolve the absurdity of a statute that calls for throwing a person in prison for what amounts to a life sentence, essentially for not being a deadly enough shot — the essential flaw of Stand Your Ground — by making the parameters for pulling your weapon even broader.
The Annie Get Your Gun crowd is having a field day in Florida, where gun owners are edging closer to being able to carry everywhere:
• In their parked car at the office, just in case things get squirrelly with the boss.
• At the tax collector’s office, where you can now pick up your concealed-carry permit while you pay your property bill. Can an AR-15 drive-through be far behind?
• A new proposed bill will allow even unlicensed gun owners to carry during evacuations, because having people pack heat in the often tense environment of emergency shelters should really work out well.
Neighboring Georgia is trying to keep up: A proposed law there would allow guns in church, at the airport, in some government buildings and, of course, guns in bars — because there’s nothing like a few cold beers to make your trigger finger itchy, and without your gun, how would you scratch?
But Georgia has a lot of catching up to do to keep up with the Gunshine State, which already has more concealed weapons permit holders than any other: 1.2 million and counting. And if that doesn’t make you want to visit Disney World, I don’t know what will. (Just don’t get into an argument with a guy in front of Space Mountain, because it could get messy.)
This is all happening despite the objections of the Florida Sheriffs Association, which according to Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, teaches its officers, “you do not fire warning shots ever . . . ever.”
Well, too bad, sheriffs. Because Florida civilians, duly deputized by the NRA, will soon be able to legally do what your officers can’t.