In April 2005, then-Florida governor Jeb Bush signed the state's “Stand Your Ground” bill into law, allowing Florida residents to defend themselves with deadly force in any “place where he or she has a right to be,” with “no duty to retreat” and a reasonable belief that “it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm ... or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” The new law drew sharp criticism from gun control groups who argued that it allowed carriers of concealed weapons to shoot to kill without threat of prosecution, or even arrest. It is currently at the center of the controversy surrounding the February 26 shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
At the time of its enactment, Fox News' Andrew Napolitano and Sean Hannity defended the Florida law and dismissed the concerns of critics. Napolitano even blasted the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for “misrepresenting” the law, even though he didn't actually know what the law said.
Florida's “Stand Your Ground” law went into effect on October 1, 2005. Since then, as Mother Jones has pointed out, Florida courts have argued that if a defendant claims self-defense in a shooting, the “defendant's only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable,” thus making it “surprisingly easy to evade prosecution by claiming self-defense.” The law is at issue in the Martin shooting, as the shooter, George Zimmerman, claimed self-defense and has thus far not been charged with a crime.
Shortly before the law took effect, the Brady Campaign went to Florida airports and handed out fliers that cautioned “visitors to take 'sensible precautions' and to be aware that altercations on highways, in nightclubs or on the beach could provoke a shooting.”
On September 30, 2005, Daniel Vice of the Brady Campaign went on Fox News' The Big Story to discuss the advertising campaign: “Until today, the law has been that if you feel nervous or threatened in Florida you should avoid confrontation and shoot someone as a last resort. As of tomorrow, the new law will be that you can shoot first in public if you feel nervous or threatened. So we're warning everyone, all tourists. And we're handing out flyers at the airport.”
Andrew Napolitano came on to respond to the Brady Campaign and claimed the law said “Florida residents may use deadly force when they believe their life or property is threatened on their own property.” According to Napolitano: “The Brady group is wrong, dead wrong, for him to say 'in public.' Because it specifically says 'only on your property.' ”
Napolitano was completely wrong. The law allows for the use of deadly force on a person's private property or “any other place where he or she has a right to be” if they reasonably feel threatened.
Napolitano acknowledged his error on the October 5, 2005, edition of The Big Story, saying the law “applies if you are in a vehicle that someone is trying to break into or if you are in any public place and someone is attacking you.” Napolitano still supported the law ( “The new Florida law actually is more pro-gun and more -- allows you to protect yourself even more than we thought” ) and still said the Brady Campaign was “dead wrong.”
A little over a month later, on the November 11, 2005 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence president Mike Beard criticized “these 'make my day' laws like they passed in Florida,” saying that the “privatization of public safety is a dangerous situation in our society. And I've always seen that as the beginning of the loss of liberty. The gun lobby likes to talk about their emphasis on freedom. But when they pass laws like this, they're taking away our freedom.”
Hannity responded: “It's called the Constitution, that freedom thing.”