Shoot First and Don't Flee?

Florida's lawmakers have passed a bill to remove criminal penalties for anyone who shoots an attacker even if the shooter didn't first make an effort to escape.

The "Stand Your Ground" bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Jeb Bush, removes the "retreat if it is prudent" clause from state law, thus giving citizens the right to use deadly force - even when it may not be needed.

States and courts have long tried to draw a line between legitimate self-defense and a "duty to flee" principle. In many cases, fleeing is considered the safest way to protect oneself, a good reason state laws should encourage citizens to make that kind of split-second decision in a tough spot.

Some states maintain a person who can flee to avoid a confrontation may not use deadly force. Others don't ban the use of deadly force in self-defense but ask courts and prosecutors to judge whether someone simply had the possibility to get out of a violent situation.

The Florida measure would push citizens toward a mentality of "shoot first and ask questions later." And it could even encourage more citizens to carry weapons, thus increasing the possibility for using deadly force. Accidental shootings could also rise, especially among those with no gun training. Even Florida's police are concerned about that possibility.

The state's move reveals the sheer force of the nation's gun lobby, not the force of common sense. In fact, getting the law passed was the No. 1 priority in the state for the powerful National Rifle Association. Let's hope other states don't follow suit.

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