Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a bill Friday that will provide greater protections for Floridians who use a firearm in self-defense under the state's "stand your ground" law.
Senate Bill 128, also called "Self-defense Immunity," was approved by the state House in April and the state Senate in May.
Florida law previously allowed citizens to utilize lethal self-defense with limited immunity from criminal charges thanks to a 2005 self-defense law signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush (R). However, in 2016 the Florida Supreme Court authorized prosecutors to utilize a "stand your ground hearing" where those being investigated had to prove that their use of lethal force was legal. With "Self-defense Immunity" signed into law, the burden of proof has been shifted onto prosecutors.
“If the state of Florida is going to accuse a citizen of committing a crime, the state of Florida should have the burden of proof at each and every part of the proceeding," state Senate President Joe Negron (R) said in a statement on Friday. "This legislation requires the state to meet the standard of clear and convincing evidence to overcome an immunity claim. I am grateful to Gov. Scott for signing this huge step toward better protection of the constitutional freedoms guaranteed to all citizens.”
“A defendant always has the presumption of innocence and the state always has a burden of proof,” Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley said. “This fundamental premise is guaranteed in our Constitution and understood intuitively by all Floridians. Fidelity to the Constitution is our most important responsibility as legislators, and I am pleased to see this legislation earn the support of Gov. Scott today.”
Sunshine State News reported that opponents of the law are calling it racist and claiming that the new law would increase gun violence against minorities.
“Expanding Stand Your Ground would send a clear message to communities of color in Florida — that we are not welcome or safe in this state," said Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed by a man who utilized the Stand Your Ground defense. McBath continued, the Sunshine State News reported:
This new law will only encourage more violence, making it easier for hate-motivated gun criminals to avoid prosecution. More than 8,000 gun-related hate crimes take place in our country every year, and now with this already deadly law expanded, I fear even more violence for Florida’s marginalized communities. The citizens of Florida deserve better than someone who kowtows to the gun lobby.
The National Rifle Association supported the new law and said that it will boost the rights of gun owners and replace bad policy enacted by Florida's Supreme Court.
“When prosecutors and judges use procedures to circumvent the rights of law-abiding people and the will of the Legislature, it cannot be tolerated,” former NRA President and current lobbyist Marion Hammer said, according to the Sunshine State News. “Procedures do not have the weight of law, and the Legislature and the governor have erased their abusive procedures in self-defense cases and have legislatively made sure these rights are reinstated.”