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Lawmakers In Fla. Back Public Use of Deadly Force

Wednesday, April 6, 2005; Page A05

TALLAHASSEE, April 5 -- People in Florida will be allowed to kill in self-defense on the street without trying to flee under a new measure passed Tuesday that critics say will bring a Wild West mentality and innocent deaths.

The Florida House, citing the need to allow people to "stand their ground," voted 94 to 20 to codify and expand court rulings that allow people to use deadly force to protect themselves in their homes without first trying to escape.

The new bill goes further by allowing citizens to use deadly force in a public place if they have a reasonable belief they are in danger of death or great bodily harm. It applies to all means of force that may result in death, although the legislative debate focused on guns.

The "Stand Your Ground" bill passed the Senate last week, 39 to 0, and now goes to Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who indicated he will sign it.

"This is about meeting force with force," said Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), the House sponsor. "If I'm attacked, I should not have to retreat."

Critics have few objections to allowing people to protect themselves from intruders in their homes but said the provision making it easier to use deadly force in public gives gun owners a license to kill. They added that the measure could lead to racially motivated killings and promote deadly escalations of arguments.

"For a House that talks about the culture of life, it's ironic that we would be devaluing life in this bill," Rep. Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach) said. "That's exactly what we're doing."

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