Residents in the U.S. southern state of Florida may now have a greater right to use guns or other deadly force to defend themselves. The new law is being criticized by gun control groups and some police officers.
The controversial Florida law says people who have the right to carry a gun can shoot someone if they feel threatened by that person in public places. Florida is the first major state in the country to enact such a law giving gun owners much more leeway to use deadly force. Florida residents already had the right to use deadly force to defend their homes. The gun law was passed by the Florida's legislature after a heavy campaign by the National Rifle Association.
Executive Vice President Wayne Lapierre says "I think this law is going is going to sweep across the country because people want to be able to protect themselves. And they do not want to be second-guessed by what action they take at the scene of a crime."
The gun law gives Florida residents expanded rights to use deadly force beyond the boundaries of their home including on the street, at work or in the car.
Some gun owners like Steve Feltus say the new law gives law-abiding people an advantage over criminals. "This law allows me to defend myself if I feel my life is threatened," says Steve Feltus.
The new law basically says any person in Florida has the right to meet force with force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. But critics such as Arthur Hayhoe of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence say the gun law goes too far. He says, "When you embolden gun owners to act you need to do it carefully. This is not a careful bill."
The Florida law has drawn criticism from several urban police chiefs, but the organization that represents 236,000 police officers supports it. Bill Johnson, Executive Director of the National Association of Police Organizations says the law can help reduce crime and applies to the entire state what many courts there have already ruled: That a citizen need not try to escape an intruder in his home or the workplace before using deadly force in self defense.
"Generally if a person uses deadly force to defend themselves or their homes, that action can be reviewed in a different court of appeal in a different jurisdiction within the state. Because of that there was a risk of the application of the law of self defense being used differently or having a different effect based on where a citizen was within the State of Florida. The legislature by enacting one general state law - that will have effect throughout the state - I think has ensured consistency for all the citizens of the state as well as people who visit the state in terms of the ability to defend themselves against an unlawful attack," says Bill Johnson.
Other proponents of the measure say reasonable people will use the gun law in a reasonable way. They say the new measure will not only curb violent crime but make citizens feel safer. But others fear gun owners may feel they have total immunity in using deadly force to settle arguments.
Other critics such as Florida lawmaker Ken Gottlieb says the law gives a person who is simply punched the right to kill their assailant. "You are going to have fights, you are going to have set-ups, it is going to be just a horrible way to handle things in a civilized society," says Ken Gottlieb.
Despite opposition from gun control groups, The National Rifle Association says it will seek to introduce similar gun laws in every state.