Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

House Expected to Pass Warning Shot Bill

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Republican-controlled Florida House is expected today to pass the first significant revisions to the state's self-defense laws since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Legislators are expected to vote for a bill that would let people fire warning shots and avoid the state's strict mandatory minimum sentences for using a gun.

(The vote is still expected despite a late-night amendment to repeal the law, filed by House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, according to the Times/Herald Capitol Bureau.) 

The legislation was partially inspired by the case 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.

Sponsors of the bill argue that it would allow someone to use the state's "stand your ground" defense in cases where they either shoot their gun to warn someone or even if they just show the gun. The "stand your ground" law now allows someone to use deadly force if they think their life is in danger.

"Our goal with this legislation is to strengthen the ‘stand your ground' law," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach and one of the backers of the warning-shot bill.

The House gave tentative approval to the bill (HB 89) Wednesday. The Florida Senate is scheduled to take up a similar bill today.

The death of Martin, an unarmed teenager, sparked protests and debate about Florida's "stand your ground" law. This past summer, a group of protesters spent 31 nights in the Florida Capitol after George Zimmerman was acquitted in Martin's death.

Zimmerman did not ask for a "stand your ground" hearing, but he said he shot Martin in self-defense. Portions of the "stand your ground" law were included in the jury instructions. Some legislators questioned Gaetz about whether the warning shot bill went too far.

Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, asked whether someone could fire "100 warning shots" and still avoid criminal prosecution. Gaetz countered that if someone acted in a reckless manner, they would get arrested.

Gaetz also would not answer directly whether the bill would have helped Alexander.

Alexander tried to assert a "stand your ground" defense but a judge rejected her claim. She was sentenced under Florida's "10-20-life" law that has mandatory sentences for using a gun.

That law requires that anyone who shows a gun in the commission of certain felonies gets an automatic 10 years in prison. Fire the gun, and it's an automatic 20 years. Shoot and wound someone, and it's 25 years to life.