Thursday, October 13, 2005

Welcome to Florida...DUCK!

On the news recently, I discovered that our new Florida state gun law, which went into effect October 1, is stirring up some controversy. Basically, according to the Miami Herald the law expanded Florida's "castle doctrine" law, which is named after the philosophy that "a man's home is his castle." It used to say that a person has a right to shoot first in self-defense if someone enters his home.

However, that old law required anyone attacked in a public place to retreat first; they could only use deadly force in self-defense, if fleeing was ineffective. The new version removes the obligation to retreat. If you feel that you are being threatened, you can legally shoot first and ask questions later.

A group called the "Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence" describes the law in the following way (this is a direct quote from their flyer): "A new law in the Sunshine State authorizes nervous or frightened residents to use deadly force." I think this applies to anyone, not just residents, but I suppose it would be a bit difficult for the average tourist to toss a gun in their carry-on bag as they wing their way on vacation.

The Brady Campaign is countering the law with ad campaigns in various other states, and even foreign countries, warning potential tourists of the possible risks of visiting the Sunshine State. And they don't mean danger from criminals...their ads specifically advise against pissing off the locals. They off a variety of helpful tips, including:

"Do not argue unnecessarily with local people"

"Keep your hands in plain sight if you are involved in a traffic accident or a near-miss."

"If someone appears to be angry with you, maintain to the best of your ability a positive attitude, and do not shout or make threatening gestures."

Cool! The next time my favorite eatery is packed with out-of-towners, I'll have to finger a suspicious bulge in my pocket and mumble about how waiting for a table sends me over the edge. And maybe if enough confused tourists get warning fliers, they'll pull off to the side of the road to read their freakin' maps rather than stopping dead in the middle of the road...that is, if they don't want to be stopped dead literally.

A press release from the Brady Campaign also warns: "Individuals who are unfamiliar with Florida's roads, traffic regulations and customs, or who speak foreign languages, or look different than Florida residents, may face a higher risk of danger -- because they may be more likely to be perceived as threatening by Floridians, and because they are unaware of Florida's new law that says individual who feel their safety is threatened or their possessions are at risk are legally authorized to use deadly force."

Personally, I've never felt the urge to blow away others who speak another language or who look "different," but who that I can do it with impunity, maybe I'll suddenly get the urge to go on a shooting spree. For all I know, thousands of my fellow formerly mild-mannered Floridians are suddenly drunk with newfound power. Now that they're packing heat and are legally allowed to use it, our roadways might turn into the California of the East and our streets might turn into the Wild, Wild South.

A spokesman for the Brady Campaign insists, "We are not trying to scare people; the Florida Legislature scared people." I guess it is a little scary; there are probably some disturbed individuals who might look at such a broad law as an excuse to declare open season on anyone who ticks them off, but I hope that most people will exercise common sense.

When I returned from my latest trip to the Midwest, I was hoping to find the flyer distributors at Orlando International. I have a warped sensed of humor, so I planned to respond with something like the following: "Cool! Visitors can shoot first if they feel threatened, too, right? Where's the closest gun shop to the airport? Those hour-long lines at Disney World make me feel threatened; those losers better get the heck out of my way or I'll have to teach them a lesson."

Actually, setting up gun rental concessions to help tourists protect themselves might not be a bad idea. In addition to warding off crazed locals, they can deal with other "threats." For example, I often read horror stories about unsuspecting families who sign up for a "two hour" timeshare presentation in exchange for cash or free Disney World tickets. Somehow, those 120 minutes drag into three, four, or five hours of relentless high-pressue sales pitches. They end up signing on the dotted line just to escape before midnight. It would put them on even footing if they could whip out an AK47 and demand, "Give me the damn tickets NOW!"

And what about the surly car rental agents who lie by claiming that a tourists must buy their overpriced insurance (even if they have their own insurance) because "'s required by state law." I can just imagine a disgruntled tourist drawling, "Yeah, bucko, I got your state law right here!" as he shoves a cold metal gun barrel in the obnoxious agent's face.

Ah, but Fantasy Land is eight miles down the road. In reality, I don't think that much will change. The Brady people will get their 15 minutes of fame, riding on the coattails of controversy, and then life in the Sunshine State will return to normal.

And if not, the Town Center Market recently closed in downtown Celebration. Now that there's an empty store in a prime location, I just might start up a bullet-proof vest franchise.

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