Florida’s strange gun laws

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case and have concluded that one reason for the verdict is Florida law.  I’ve read the jury instructions and while they were confusing, they had to follow the law which led to acquittal.

The best piece I’ve read on Florida gun laws is an OpEd by Farah Stockman in the Boston Globe.  Stockman writes about Florida gun laws generally and cites 4 currently incarcerated people as examples:  Marissa Alexander, Ronald Thompson, Orville Lee Wollard and Erik Weyant.    All but Alexander are white men, all including Alexander fired a gun to frighten and not to kill.  All are currently serving 20 year minimum sentences.

IF IT BOGGLES your mind that George Zimmerman, a 29-year-old with a gun, could be acquitted after pursuing — and killing — an unarmed 17-year-old, here’s another brain teaser: How could Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three, receive a 20-year prison sentence for firing a bullet into a wall near her abusive ex-husband, even though no one was harmed?

It’s true. Florida is one of the worst places to fire a gun into the air, even as it appears to be one of the best places to actually shoot at a person.

Marissa Alexander of Florida received a 20-year prison sentence for firing a warning shot at her abusive ex-husband.

Marissa Alexander of Florida received a 20-year prison sentence for firing a warning shot at her abusive ex-husband.

She goes on to explain.

Alexander, whose ex-husband admitted that she was afraid of his abuse, is not the only one in prison for shooting at nothing.

Ronald Thompson, 62, a disabled veteran, fired two shots into the ground to protect an elderly woman from her violent 17-year-old grandson. State Attorney Angela Corey — the same prosecutor in the Zimmerman case — charged him with four counts of aggravated assault. Thompson was sentenced to 20 years in prison,  a punishment that the judge in the case called a “crime in itself.”  (He is currently awaiting a new trial.)

Orville Lee Wollard, a former auxiliary police force member, shot a bullet into the wall to scare away his daughter’s abusive boyfriend. Prosecutors offered him probation. But he wanted to be exonerated at trial. Now he’s serving 20 years.

Erik Weyant, 22, fired shots in the air to disperse a group of drunk men who accosted him in a parking lot outside a bar and blocked his car. No one was hurt. But he’s in for 20 years.

In many cases, the fact that they chose to fire a warning shot, instead of aiming to kill, was used as evidence against them at trial, said Greg Newburn of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. If you were truly in fear of your life, the logic goes, you would aim at the chest, not the wall.

Florida lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, began to notice that a lot of people were getting severely punished simply for defending themselves. But instead of repealing the Draconian measure, they passed another one: the “stand your ground” law.

Somehow, both of the laws are not working.  George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin is free, the four named above are in prison.

…And had Alexander shot and killed her abusive ex-husband, would she have had a better chance of getting immunity with a “stand your ground” defense?

“I think so,” said her attorney Michael Dowd.

So in the sick logic of Florida’s gun laws, the message is clear: If you are going to shoot, shoot to kill. You stand a better chance of walking free.

What is happening in Florida is just another reason we need to take a careful look at all of our gun laws.  Florida’s gun laws have little to do with race and as pressure mounts to help Alexander, let us not forget everyone else.

Photograph:  Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union

4 thoughts on “Florida’s strange gun laws

  1. These are thoughtful words you wrote and open one’s eye’s to great injustice.

    One has great difficulty in accepting law can / could be interpreted so badly
    that individuals having been sent to prison / because they were able when in
    a difficult situation that they controlled the emotions / as showed compassion
    in not harming any individual rather than using controlled force to warn them
    being a gun used / where firing a warning shot / or shots / is understandable.

    Of course one can interpret the law that they committed an crime / yet taking
    the situation as circumstances into account / if the court felt need / punishing
    then probation would be fitting / at extreme if a prison sentence but deserved
    required /then it should be kept to the minimum of months certainly not years.

    Many people go through times of exteme emotional pressure when in life they
    face troubling times situations /more so when trying protect an family member
    or a friend / in truth rather prison / its aid that needed dealing with emotional
    stress / putting a individual whom being mentally under stress into prison / is
    indeed a great wrong /thus the interpretation of law in itself / a great injustice.

    One can understand the courts viewpoint that a example must be shown / yet
    in doing such where using a sentence as example to others / in itself an crime.

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