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Warning Shot Bill, 'Stand Your Ground' Heat Up House Floor

March 19, 2014 - 7:00pm

All eyes were fixed on legislation revolving around Floridas Stand Your Ground law on Thursday, with Minority Leader Perry Thurston filing a late amendment to repeal the controversial self-defense law on Thursday morning. The amendment led to an intense debate over the amendment on the House floor later that afternoon.

Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, filed the amendment to HB 89 at 8:50 a.m. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Neil Combee, R-Bartow, would grant immunity to those firing warning shots in self-defense from being locked up in prison for 20 years. Thurstons amendment would have repealed the law entirely, but was voted down by a vote of 31-83.

I think this bill is the wrong message at the wrong time, said Thurston.

Combees bill had the backing of many representatives in the House -- both Republicans and Democrats -- as well as the National Rifle Association. Legislators first proposed the changes to the self-defense law after Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a gun into a wall during a dispute with her estranged husband.

Thurstons amendment sparked a heated hour-long debate from representatives from all parts of the state, some of whom werent on board with the repeal.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, spoke at length in defense of the law. Gaetz chaired the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee that shot down a bill to repeal the law in November.

Others, however, said Stand Your Ground needed to go.

Im tired of Florida being the laughingstock on so many policies, said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. Lets be courageous ... lets be bold. Lets repeal Stand Your Ground.

When the time came for Combees bill to come to a vote, the House approved it with a vote of 93-24.

Although some legislators didnt agree with the entirety of the bill, they still believed it would be a positive step toward future changes to the law.

The bill is a step in the right direction, said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. I wish the bill did more, but I dont think thats the answer ... to just throw it all out.

Earlier this week, a bill to make minor tweaks to Floridas Stand Your Ground law made its way through the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, passing the committee with a unanimous vote. The bill was debated on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen atAllison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen

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