Saturday, March 31, 2012

Florida Gun Owners Are Not Free-Lance Cops

There are still many unanswered questions about the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, but one fact is clear: George Zimmerman had a concealed weapon as he went about his so-called "duties" as a "neighborhood watchman." While the 911 tapes seem to prove that Zimmerman was in effect stalking Trayvon while the teenager was merely walking home from the store, many gun-rights advocates are saying loudly and proudly that Zimmerman was well within his rights to feel threatened and to use the gun any way he sought fit to defend himself. That's because of the rather vague "Stand Your Ground Law" in Florida that allows just about anyone to claim self-defense in almost any situation.

Gun Advocates also like to throw around the term "castle doctrine" as justification because Zimmerman felt he was protecting his neighbor's homes because there had been a spate of burglaries. The irony is that Trayvon was living there in that neighborhood with his father and had just as much right to be there as Zimmerman, who may not have lived in that particular development anyway. There is absolutely no evidence that Trayvon was involved in any robberies or that he had the intention of doing anything illegal. Also, there was no "castle" to protect because that would only apply if Zimmerman was in his own home or was protecting someone else from bodily harm. If he had stayed in his car as the 911 dispatcher suggested, and Trayvon had somehow gotten into his car with him, then the castle doctrine would have applied. But guess what? Zimmerman got out of the car! He told the dispatcher that Trayvon was "getting away." But the rules of handguns in Florida prohibit chasing someone with a handgun - that is not part of the castle doctrine.

From The Florida Division of Licensing:

 Q. When can I use my handgun to protect myself?
A. Florida law justifies use of deadly force when you are:
* Trying to protect yourself or another person from death or serious bodily harm; 
* Trying to prevent a forcible felony, such as rape, robbery, burglary or kidnapping.

Using or displaying a handgun in any other circumstances could result in your conviction for crimes such as improper exhibition of a firearm, manslaughter, or worse.
Example of the kind of attack that will not justify defending yourself with deadly force: Two neighbors got into a fight, and one of them tried to hit the other by swinging a garden hose. The neighbor who was being attacked with the hose shot the other in the chest. The court upheld his conviction for aggravated battery with a firearm, because an attack with a garden hose is not the kind of violent assault that justifies responding with deadly force.

Q. What if someone uses threatening language to me so that I am afraid for my life or safety? 
A. Verbal threats are not enough to justify the use of deadly force. There must be an overt act by the person which indicates that he immediately intends to carry out the threat. The person threatened must reasonably believe that he will be killed or suffer serious bodily harm if he does not immediately take the life of his adversary.

Q. What if someone is attacking me in my own home?
A. The courts have created an exception to the duty to retreat called the “castle doctrine.” Under the castle doctrine, you need not retreat from your own home to avoid using deadly force against an assailant. The castle doctrine applies if you are attacked in your own home by an intruder.

Q. What if I am in my place of business and someone comes in to rob me? Do I have to retreat before using deadly force?
A. The castle doctrine also applies when you are in your place of business. If you are in danger of death or great bodily harm or you are trying to prevent a forcible felony, you do not have to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense.

Q. What if I point my handgun at someone but don't use it?
A. Never display a handgun to gain "leverage" in an argument. Threatening someone verbally while possessing a handgun, even licensed, will land you in jail for three years. Even if the gun is broken or you don't have bullets, you will receive the mandatory three-year sentence if convicted. The law does not allow any possibility of getting out of jail early.

Example: In a 1987 case, a woman refused to pay an automobile mechanic who she thought did a poor job repairing her car. They argued about it, and the mechanic removed the radiator hose from the car so she couldn't drive it away. She reached into her purse, pulled out an unloaded gun, and threatened to kill the mechanic if he touched her car again. The mechanic grabbed the gun and called the police.
The woman was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm and sentenced to serve a mandatory three-year prison term. The fact that the gun was not loaded was irrelevant. Even though she was the mother of three dependent children and had no prior criminal record, the statute does not allow for parole. Her only recourse was to seek clemency from the Governor.

Q. When can I use deadly force in the defense of another person?
A. If you see someone who is being attacked, you can use deadly force to defend him/her if the circumstances would justify that person's use of deadly force in his/her own defense. In other words, you "stand in the shoes" of the person being attacked.

Q. What if I see a crime being committed?
A. A license to carry a concealed weapon does not make you a free-lance policeman. But, as stated earlier, deadly force is justified if you are trying to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. The use of deadly force must be absolutely necessary to prevent the crime. Also, if the criminal runs away, you cannot use deadly force to stop him, because you would no longer be "preventing" a crime. If use of deadly force is not necessary, or you use deadly force after the crime has stopped, you could be convicted of manslaughter.

Q. If I get a license to carry a concealed weapon, can I carry it anywhere?
A. No. To get a license you must sign an oath that you have read and understand the Jack Hagler Self-defense Act (Section 790.06, Florida Statutes). That statute lists several places where you may not carry a concealed weapon. You should read subsection 12 for a complete list, but some examples are football, baseball, and basketball games (college or professional) and bars.

A cool head and even temper can keep handgun carriers out of trouble. You should never carry a gun into a situation where you might get angry.

And there you have it ~ from the people in Florida who license handguns.

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