TALAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers are preparing to allow gun owners who feel threatened to display their weapons to ward off attackers or even fire warning shots.
The legislation, approved by the House of Representatives and due to be considered by the Senate as early as April 1, was proposed in response to the case of a woman sentenced to prison after firing into a wall during a domestic dispute.
The Florida proposal is the latest example of a state moving to relax gun laws even after a push to toughen them following the 2012 elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Georgia lawmakers last week allowed guns in airports, bars, schools and churches.
Florida has been a leader in relaxing firearms laws, and its measures often are replicated, as occurred with the so-called Stand Your Ground law, which allows deadly force in self defense.
Florida became the target of nationwide protests after Trayvon Martin, a unarmed 17-year-old walking in his father’s Sanford neighborhood, was killed by George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of second-degree murder last year.
“If a bill like this was to pass in Florida, it’s inevitably going to come up in other states,” said Richard Feldman, president of Independent Firearms Owners Association, a Rindge, N.H.-based group that opposes restrictions on gun owners. “That’s been the model we’ve seen.”
Other states have relaxed laws this year. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, signed a bill last month allowing people to take guns into bars and restaurants. West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, this week approved a measure banning cities from restricting firearms.
Kansas in 2010 allowed people to use the “threat of force” – words or physical acts – in self-defense.
Florida this year began moving to give immunity to those who display a gun or fire a warning shot when they feel endangered. The measure is backed by the National Rifle Association, the Fairfax, Va.-based pro-gun lobbying group.
The legislation passed the House on March 20 with a vote of 93-20, winning the support of the Republican majority and about half the Democrats.
Gov. Rick Scott said last week he would review the legislation if it’s approved, and didn’t give his position.
State Rep. Neil Combee, a Republican who sponsored the measure, said it has support to pass the Senate. State Sen. Chris Smith, the Democratic minority leader, who opposes allowing warning shots, said it likely would succeed by a wide margin.
The law was proposed after Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville was sentenced in 2012 to 20 years for what she said was a warning shot. She said she fired to repel her abusive husband, and tried unsuccessfully to use the stand your ground law as a defense.