There are some folks who would like us to believe that the Wild, Wild West now starts in the Sunshine State. According to the news media, when Governor Jeb Bush signed the “Castle Doctrine” into law last spring, with an effective date of October 1, 2005, Florida’s new moniker became the “Gun shine State.” The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has perpetuated the nonsense and lies, warning tourists that Florida streets are not safe because citizens can take the law into their own hands.
Former NRA President Marion Hammer recently joined the Center’s Corporate Counsel, Renee Giachino, to explain Florida’s new “Castle Doctrine” law and address the great deal of erroneous information that has been written, published and spoken about the law.
What follows is excerpts from the interview that aired on WEBY 1330 AM, Northwest Florida’s Talk Radio. The program is called “Your Turn – Meeting Nonsense with Common Sense.”
GIACHINO: My first guest has been referred to as a modern-day Second Amendment heroine. She is a staunch defender and protector of our constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Her name is Marion Hammer and she is past president of the National Rifle Association, serving as the first woman President in NRA’s history. She is responsible for Florida’s pro-gun lobbying efforts and defeating anti-gun legislation. She is an author, public speaker and instructor. She currently serves as the Executive Director for and has represented the Unified Sportsmen of Florida for decades. In her free time – assuming she has some, she is a competitive shooter in rifle and pistol.
Please welcome Marion Hammer.
HAMMER: It is my pleasure.
GIACHINO: Before we start talking about the issue that will of great interest to many of the listeners, that is the new law in Florida that some refer to as the “Stand Your Ground,” others call it the “Castle Doctrine,” I first would like you to please tell us about the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and how people can learn more about that organization.
HAMMER: We were formed in 1975 with the assistance and support of the National Rifle Association because Florida was seeing what I would call a burst of gun control measures being filed by northerners who had moved to South Florida and had brought the stuff that they had moved away from with them. So there was so much gun control being filed that it was very difficult for the NRA to deal with it from over 1,000 miles away. So they formed Unified Sportsmen of Florida so that they could have someone here in the state monitoring and working the legislation.
In 1978, I was selected as Executive Director and full-time lobbyist and asked to handle all of NRA’s lobbying here and all of the lobbying for Unified Sportsmen of Florida and I have been doing it ever since.
GIACHINO: As I understand it, you have done a fabulous job on the issue and wethank you for that.
I now want to turn to the misinformation campaign that is going on in the State of Florida with respect to this new law. Actually, the law was passed back in the spring but went into effect October 1st.
If you would, please tell us more about the “Stand Your Ground” law. I believe the more accurate description is the “castle doctrine” law.
HAMMER: The castle doctrine law was signed into law on April 26th of this year. It did not take effect until October 1st because jury instructions had to be re-written. The jury system and the prosecutors in this state had started changing the law and jury instructions to simply give the edge to criminals. So because there was a delay in the legislation taking effect, the Brady Campaign, who had been unsuccessful in defeating the campaign, had decided to run a campaign and get a lot of publicity and in essence terrorize our tourists by attempting to make them think that if they came to Florida they could be shot. That is absolute nonsense.
The castle law doctrine has three major components. It restores the right of a law-abiding citizen to protect himself and his family in his home. It establishes the presumption that if someone breaks into your home or forcefully intrudes into your home of your occupied vehicle, that they are there to do harm and that you may therefore use force, including deadly force, to protect yourself and your family and you are not going to be badgered by a justice system that protects criminals.
The second thing that it does is it removes the duty to retreat when you are under attack by a criminal. The duty to retreat had been imposed by the system and essentially if someone had tried to drag a woman into an alley to rape her, the women – even though she might be licensed to carry concealed and ready to protect herself, the law would not allow her to do it. It required her to try to get away and run and be chased down by the perpetrator before she could then use force to protect herself. That was wrong. So the duty to retreat from any place that you have the right to be has been removed. If you are attacked, you can still run if you want to. But if you want to protect yourself, you can in effect stand your ground and protect yourself.
The third component deals with a prohibition against civil lawsuits by criminals or the families of criminals who had begun to profit by their crimes by suing victims who may have harmed or killed criminals who were attacking them or intruding into their homes. It is just wrong for a system to allow criminals who have attacked you to turn around and sue you when you defend yourself and do harm to them.
So that basically is what the law does. When you are outside the home you can only meet force with force and then deadly force only if you reasonably believe that it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. In your home, they break in, you can use whatever force you choose.
GIACHINO: You mentioned that it applies inside the home and outside the home. Outside the home, your car is treated like your home. What about on the street? You mentioned the example of the woman being dragged into an alley. So long as she is in a public place, that she is lawfully entitled to be, she has the protection, right? If she is trespassing, then she is not afforded the same protection under the law, is that right?
HAMMER: You are absolutely correct. The law states that if you are in a place where you have a lawful place to be. It also specifically deprives an individual of these rights if they are committing a crime. So there is no way that criminals – street gangs in fact, could claim self-defense. Mutual combat has never been justified in the eyes of the law but those who like to ban guns attempted to say that this law would allow street gangs because they were legally in the street. Well combat in the streets is not legal. The law specifically says that you do not have the protection if you are engaged in unlawful criminal conduct.
GIACHINO: One thing that is a little bit confusing – well, actually a lot of things are confusing about this law, particularly because of the misinformation that is being given by the Brady group, but one thing that confused me, and I read the law several times myself and would consider myself qualified to read it and understand it with my legal background, but nonetheless someone who is retreating, a perpetrator who is retreating, what happens then? If they had entered the person’s home unlawfully and the person felt that their life or someone in their family’s life was in danger, even if at some point the perpetrator turns to retreat, if deadly force is used against them would this law still apply?
HAMMER: The law is designed to allow you to use deadly force against an individual who breaks into your home. If someone turns around, you have no way of knowing whether or not they are retreating or whether or not they are going for a gun or something else. So yes, if someone breaks into your home they are at your mercy. Once they get outside your home – if they turn around and run and get outside your home, then you cannot take action against them.
GIACHINO: Let me ask you about that because when you read the statute yourself, the law also allows a citizen to use deadly force to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. So how does the new law come into play, if at all, in an example say where someone breaks into a bank and they tie up to the tellers and steal the money and they are in the process of fleeing? If the citizen has witnessed this, do they have the right to use deadly force to stop that bank robber?
HAMMER: This bill really does not allow a citizen to do that. It does not speak to it because if you are in a place where you have legal right to be, you may meet force with force. So you would have to be under attack before you could use force, including deadly force, when you are in a bank or somewhere else. When it comes to helping someone else who is under attack, or the situation you described, those are going to be jury questions, just like they have always been jury questions. And this bill really did not address that situation specifically. It addressed self-defense and defense of your family.
GIACHINO: You talked a little bit about some of the exceptions where the law will not afford someone the protection. You gave the example of a gang-related incident, or a when one drug dealer shoots another drug dealer – where they are engaged in an illegal activity, or someone trespassing on someone’s property.
Am I right that the law does the law not apply as well in instances of domestic violence?
GIACHINO: Why is that an exception? Is there another statute?
HAMMER: The way the law is written, when it comes to domestic violence situations there is some prevailing law that is still in place but the law attempts to say that if in a domestic violence situation you are being beaten you may use self-defense, but you can’t simply take action against an estranged spouse who breaks into the home if they own the home. You have to be under attack before you use force in those situations.
There was an effort by some of the attorneys on the Justice Committee to try to be sure that in restoring your self-defense rights and your right to protect your home that they did not set up scenarios where people could murder people they did not like and claim it was lawful self-defense.
GIACHINO: So it was almost a compromise, is that right?
GIACHINO: We have a call. Is it alright to take it?
GIACHINO: Go ahead, it’s your turn.
CALLER: Thank you. I am a life member of the NRA. I think it is important to – and not everybody can do it, but people like Renee and others who are going to help explain this in the future that they coincide or put together the revised jury instructions. When you read the revision, I think it makes it very clear of the intent. And I think that it is very important for people to understand that if they are unfortunate enough to be prosecuted by the state, the onus has shifted heavily upon the state to prove that they acted outside the scope of the law? Would you agree with that?
HAMMER: Yes. And I will also tell you that the proposed new jury instructions are already available. I have seen them. The committee appointed by the Supreme Court to draft them has made them available to review. As of today, to the best of my knowledge, the Supreme Court has not given final approval. But I looked them over and the attorneys at NRA headquarters have looked them over and they appear to be pretty faithful to the new law and the intent of the new law.
CALLER: Right, they were published in the latest copy of the Florida Bar magazine. I am really encouraged by the way the jury instructions have changed and the exact wording of them. There had to be a lot of effort going toward that.
But I am encouraged that if someone is unfortunately prosecuted under the new law, their defense attorney will at least have some solace in the way the jury instructions are now written that it makes it very clear that the state has to jump through a high hurdle in order to prosecute someone and we are done with this Mickey Mouse stuff that always has been going on before and the state attorney’s office has always had its hands tied, more or less.
HAMMER: Well you know there is intent language in the legislation and the bill passed overwhelmingly throughout the entire committee process and off the floor there was not ever a single dissenting vote in the Florida Senate. In the Florida House, the bill passed 92-20 – there were 20 very liberal, anti-gun south Florida Democrats who voted against it. The overwhelming support of this legislation, I think, made this committee understand that they needed to be faithful to the legislation and to the intent because if they did not get it right, we would come back and fix it again.
CALLER: Exactly. And you all did an outstanding job. I am glad to see it. What do we have to look forward to in the next session? Do we have anything that is going to surprise any of us or are things going to be pretty quiet?
HAMMER: Well we do have a number of things. We have four bills that we are supporting and working on. One gives immunity from liability to businesses if firearms that are stored in vehicles in their parking lots are stolen or accessed unlawfully and misused on company property.
GIACHINO: If I can interrupt for a second, I want to let the listeners know that Ms. Marion Hammer, in an editorial that she wrote, appears today as an editorial in the Pensacola News Journal. So if you want to learn more about that issue, please read Ms. Marion Hammer’s editorial that appears today in the Pensacola News Journal.
Sorry for the interruption.
HAMMER: And that is because Florida law already gives you the right to have a firearm in your vehicle for lawful purposes. In traveling to and from work or to and from shopping, anywhere you go for lawful purposes. And part of that right includes the right to have it locked in your vehicle in a parking lot when you go shopping or when you go to work. That is one.
There is another bill that was filed today to head off any situation like they had in New Orleans where the mayor and the police chief decided to start confiscating guns from law-abiding people who were protecting their property from looters. The legislation filed today by Representative Mitch Needleman inserts into the emergency management sections of law a simple little statement that says that nothing inside that emergency management statutes may be construed to allow the seizure, taking or confiscation of firearms that are lawfully owned. I think that is important. NRA should not have to go to court state-by-state to stop confiscation when we have hurricanes and other emergency situations.
The third bill we call “no net loss of hunting lands.” In Florida statutes, you have a right to hunt. In order to hunt you have to have land to hunt on. In urban sprawl, and first one thing and then another, is closing hunting lands. The state owns massive amounts of property that could be and should be open to hunting. So this law basically says that when hunting lands are closed, new hunting lands should be opened.
And the fourth one simply says that when people go to a sub-agent of Game and Fish to buy a hunting license or fishing license or trapping permit, that they should be offered the opportunity to register to vote.
Those are the four pieces of legislation for this coming session that we are vitally interested in.
GIACHINO: It sounds exciting.
Let me ask you this – many in the Brady organization argue that the law that we have been discussing – the castle doctrine or stand your ground, is dangerous and unnecessary. Do you think they will have any success in convincing legislators to revoke the law?
HAMMER: Absolutely not. They have not had any success in convincing anyone that they were doing anything except playing politics. They put out flyers warning tourists when they come to Florida “don’t engage in arguments with locals.” Well why would they want to do that anyhow? That is pretty good advice anytime.
But in an attempt to make tourists believe that if they get into an argument with a local they could be shot is just wrong. And it fact, there are some folks who think that it is actionable because they are attempting to damage tourism – part of the economy of this state, with false information with the purpose of getting publicity for themselves.
GIACHINO: Yes, it’s like false advertising. The mischaracterizations, you could go on and on, they call it the “shoot first” law. First of all, the legislation itself, other than perhaps in the preamble, doesn’t even talk about guns.
How do you respond to the Brady organization’s claim that this legislation puts the law into the hands of private citizens?
HAMMER: It puts the law on the side of private citizens. It allows you the freedom to take responsibility for your own safety and the safety of your family. We all know that calling 911 is not going to do much except get somebody there to pick up the pieces after-the-fact a little faster. Law abiding people have a right under the Constitution to self-defense. That cannot be taken away because it infringes terribly on our freedom. At a time when we want all Americans to take responsibility for themselves and their own actions, why on earth would anybody want to take away this precious right?
GIACHINO: That’s right. If the citizens support this law, which I know many of them do, is it too early or too late for them to express their support and how should they do that?
HAMMER: It’s never too late to express support for something that has happened. They can pick up the phone and call their state senator or state representative and thank them for supporting the legislation and let them know that it is important. The Brady Campaign keeps talking about trying to get the legislature to repeal the legislation. They had no success in getting anybody to vote against it for the most part when it moved through the legislative process.
GIACHINO: Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon, Ms. Hammer. I would like to invite you back on the program to update us on things in the legislative session.
HAMMER: I certainly will do that – anytime.
GIACHINO: Thank you very much – Ms. Marion Hammer, past president of the NRA and current Executive Director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida.
November 3, 2005