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Friday, April 18, 2014
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Published: 4/30/2005

Duel at high noon?

THE new tourism brochures could be real attention-getters featuring sun, swaying palm trees, and real life gunslingers. It's not your father's Florida anymore with enactment of a new law allowing citizens to shoot it out on the streets of the Sunshine State with deadly force to preserve the peace. The development would be almost comedic in the land of Disney if the ramifications weren't so tragic.

Florida must be the test market for key objectives of the National Rifle Association. After the powerful gun lobby was able to successfully nudge the state to make concealed carry law, scores of other states, including Ohio, had to have one too.

Now you can carry a hidden firearm in 38 states, except in all the public and private places where weapons have been prohibited for the general safety of the population.

It gets crazier. Gun trendsetter Florida has gone a step beyond concealed carry and now permits use of deadly force by residents in their homes to defend themselves. If other states follow suit, hold onto your holster.

The Wild West of the Southeast now permits its concealed gun-toting citizens to fire away at each other on the streets if threatened, "to prevent death or great bodily harm."

The right to meet "force with force" when jeopardized with mortal danger replaces a statute that maintained Floridians had a "duty to retreat" when they feared for their lives. In other words, residents were urged to walk away and avoid use of deadly force when escape was an option.

But where would that leave the NRA? Why have an arsenal of deadly weapons if you can't use them at your discretion for self preservation? So now Floridians, who could have fled a threatening situation, are allowed to use deadly force instead "if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so " And the gunslinger's word is weighted against the perceived attacker.

The new law says prosecutors must automatically presume would-be victims feared for their lives before shooting.

Critics argue the measure is so broad it could encourage verbal arguments to escalate into gunfights. Why back down when you're packing heat? "You are telling people when they are in the midst of an emotional moment you can stand your ground until death happens," says state Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Democrat.

Florida came through for the NRA again by wholly embracing its top priority as public policy. With an NRA representative at his side, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed the measure into law, saying "it defies common sense" to retreat when you can reload in self defense.

What really defies common sense is publicly sidling up with a gun lobbyist to promote the virtues of being a fast draw when maybe dialogue or departure would work just as well.



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