Yesterday’s Guardian (and, I dare say, other British newspapers) carried this striking, not to mention alarming, advertisement, from the “Shoot First Law” campaign.
Guns are of course a subject on which Americans and, well, pretty much everyone else in the western world, really, are never going to see eye to eye. Pro-gun Americans pity us for our weak-willed surrender of the freedom to defend our lives, families and properties with lethal force. The rest of us consider that to be a price worth paying in order to have (for example) 80 deaths per year from firearms in the UK, as opposed to 30,000!!! in the US.
(Sorry for the formatting blip with that figure there – but you must understand how continually startling that figure is for people outside the US. Absolutely staggering.)
Anyway, I’m not here to start what I’m sure would be a pretty futile argument about the pros and cons of the different approaches to gun ownership and control. If you differ from me on this, then we’ll probably just have to agree that we differ.
But this new Florida law does seem very worrying, surely even for those who otherwise support gun-ownership. It grants complete civil and criminal immunity to any person who “reasonably believes it is necessary to [shoot another person] to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another person or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony”.
The shooting needn’t be done as a last resort – the express intention of the law is to allow people to “stand their ground” – and the immunity applies even if the shooter could have avoided the threat “by walking away or seeking refuge elsewhere”. According to the campaign site:
Nothing in the law would preserve the right of an innocent bystander who was shot in the incident to pursue a civil action against the shooter for negligence in the handling of a firearm. The shooter could receive immunity for shooting recklessly into a crowd, as long as he reasonably believed he was in serious danger.
The law is also being opposed by senior police officers and prosecutors, including Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne (“it’s easy to say after the fact, I felt threatened”) and Willie Meggs, President of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
Well, as I say, the reason for posting this is not really to start an argument about differing attitudes towards guns – though don’t let me stop you ;-). Just to highlight what a colossal culture-gap there is on this issue between the US and the UK (not to mention the rest of Europe, Canada, Australia…).