Florida lawmakers are considering an update to the Stand Your Ground law. The state wants to make clear that residents won’t have to wait to be attacked in their homes before using deadly force. That has gun control advocates worried.
In order to understand the changes lawmakers want to make, you have to know about the castle doctrine. Here's an intro from Longwood Republican Senator David Simmons.
“These are sacrosanct areas for you. I don’t care if you’re African-American or Hispanic or white or anything else. Your home is your castle,” Simmons said.
Castle doctrine is a legal precedent that says if someone is threatened in their own home, they don’t have a duty to retreat. In 2005 the state codified castle doctrine for the first time. Before that it was simply common law – developed through court cases and tradition. But when lawmakers updated the law in 2014, they said a defender must be attacked before using deadly force. Here’s Simmons.
“You would have to in fact run out the back door I guess, so long as the person wasn’t actually attacking you, physically attacking you,” Simmons said.
That sets the bar higher than simply perceiving a deadly threat. Simmons calls the change a drafting error.
“What happened is, in drafting that, they went ahead and put the language in that you had to be attacked in order to be able to stand your ground in your own home. The end result is that was simply an error,” Simmons said.
Lawmakers want to expand castle doctrine in another way too. Right now, Floridians have a duty to retreat if they’re committing a crime in their own home. But Simmons wants to make exceptions for some non-violent misdemeanors.
“If you happen to be smoking marijuana in your own home, without a prescription. If you happen to be nineteen years old with your girlfriend or boyfriend and happen to be drinking,” Simmons said.
Stacy Scott represents the Florida Public Defenders Association. She says without the so-called drafting errors, the use of deadly force in these situations would already be justifiable.
“Prior to 2014 there was no duty to retreat in your own home, regardless of whether you were engaged in criminal activity. The bill as amended partially restores that,” Scott said.
These changes only apply to a person’s castle - their home, residence or car. But gun control advocates are categorically opposed to any expansion of gun use. Katie Browder is with the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action.
“Fundamentally moms believe we should be repealing the dangerous stand your ground law, not expand it to apply to more situations,” Browder said.
She worries the state’s self-defense laws are changing how Floridians interact.
“These laws embolden individuals to settle conflicts by reaching for their gun, instead of using their words or simply walking away when it’s safe to do so,” Browder said.
And she points to research in the Journal of the American Medical Association that shows the state’s gun deaths have risen since 2005. That’s when Stand Your Ground and the castle doctrine were put into the law books.
“A study by professors at Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania released last year found that Florida’s stand your ground law was associated with a 32% increase in firearm homicides. At the same time, homicides considered justifiable tripled,” Browder said.
The measure is ready for a full vote in the Senate. But its future isn’t guaranteed. Complaints have sidelined the bill throughout the review process. The House version still needs the support of one more committee.