TALLAHASSEE, FLA. With a National Rifle Assn. lobbyist at his side, Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law Tuesday to make it clear that people have a right to meet "force with force" to defend themselves on the street.
The measure, which passed the Legislature overwhelmingly earlier this year, says that people who are under attack do not have to retreat before responding. They have the right to "meet force with force, including deadly force if they reasonably believe it is necessary to do so."
Florida residents already have that right in their homes. The bill, which takes effect Oct. 1, extends the right to public spaces, such as the street or a place of business.
The measure was the NRA's top priority this year, said the group's lobbyist, Marion Hammer. "Now, the law and their government is on the side of law-abiding people and victims, rather than on the side of criminals," she said.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said the Florida law was the "first step of a multistate strategy" that he hopes can capitalize on a political climate dominated by conservative opponents of gun control at the state and national levels. "There's a big tailwind we have, moving from state legislature to state legislature," he said.
Opponents of the bill warned that it would lead to a "Wild West" atmosphere in Florida, where gun-toting people would have shootouts in public places simply because they could. No one will ever back down, opponents argued.
"You are telling people when they are in the midst of an emotional moment ... you can stand your ground until death happens," Rep. Dan Gelber, a Democrat, said during House debate on the bill earlier this month.
But Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley, the bill's sponsor in the House, said the measure wouldn't result in free-for-all gun battles, in part because of laws that prevent people from carrying guns in many instances, such as into a stadium or a bar.
National gun-control advocates say the measure slipped beneath their radar.
"I am in absolute shock," said Sarah Brady, chairwoman of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said. "If I had known about it, I would have been down there."