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Fla. Bill Would Decriminalize Warning Shots

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on January 08, 2014 11:42 AM

A Florida bill designed to protect those who fire warning shots is making the rounds in the state legislature.

A similar bill failed to survive last year, but recent events -- particularly the case of Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot during a dispute with her estranged husband -- spurred the measure to move ahead this time around.

The proposed legislation would expand gun rights and seeks to broaden the state's "Stand Your Ground" law.

Inspiration Behind Warning Shot Bill

The new proposal is gaining traction because of Marissa Alexander's ordeal. Alexander, of Jacksonville, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a gun into a wall during a heated argument with her estranged husband.

Though Alexander's conviction was tossed by an appeals court for improper jury instructions and she's set for a new trial this year, her case left a lasting impression on state legislators, reports The Associated Press.

The warning shot bill "takes aim" at lengthy sentences for people like Alexander who display a gun or fire a gun in self-defense.

Nuts and Bolts of the Bill

A Florida Senate committee on voted in favor of the bill, SB 488, while a House committee has also voted in favor of similar legislation, HB 89, reports the AP.

The "warning shot" legislation would grant the same protections already in place under Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law to people who only threaten to use force. Currently, the self-defense law can only be used in cases in which an attacker is actually shot.

In addition, people who display a gun would be immune from Florida's "10-20-Life" law, which requires anyone who shows a gun while committing certain felonies to be sentenced to 10 years in prison. If a gun is fired (including warning shots), the sentence increases to at least 20 years. The law, implemented in 1999, has been credited with helping to lower Florida's violent-crime rate.

However, a number of state legislators believe this is the wrong approach to the problem of excessive sentences for warning shots. Those who are concerned about the legislation going too far and effectively encouraging people to show or shoot their guns want to explore alternatives to changing the state's gun laws, such as giving judges greater sentencing discretion.

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