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Originally published Wednesday, September 28, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Group warning tourists of new Florida gun law

Gun-control advocates are preparing to launch an international campaign through newspapers and the Internet to warn travelers about a new...

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gun-control advocates are preparing to launch an international campaign through newspapers and the Internet to warn travelers about a new state law that allows people to use deadly force in self-defense.

"It's a particular risk faced by travelers coming to Florida for a vacation because they have no idea it's going to be the law of the land," said Peter Hamm, communications director of the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "If they get into a road-rage argument, the other person may feel he has the right to use deadly force."

In a flier the group plans to pass out at Miami International Airport and possibly Orlando International Airport, tourists will be admonished to take precautions that include: "Do not argue unnecessarily with local people."

This Saturday, it will become legal to use force on an attacker without first trying to escape the confrontation. The new law seals the existing right of residents to protect their homes by shooting intruders — known as the "castle doctrine" — but now also extends that right to public places if people feel threatened with death or bodily harm.

Home and property

Supporters say the new law, which they dubbed "Stand Your Ground," allows citizens to protect themselves by meeting force with force.

Opponents, who call it the "Shoot First Law," warn it could hand itchy trigger fingers a license to kill.

Championed by the National Rifle Association, the law also makes it legal for someone to use deadly force against anyone who unlawfully or forcefully enters their home or car — even if they are not being attacked.

Marion Hammer, president of Unified Sportsmen of Florida and a former NRA president, said critics are off-base. Pointing out the castle doctrine dates to the 1400s, she said the new law codifies the right of people to use any manner of force to protect their home and its inhabitants.

The law was needed, she contends, because Florida prosecutors and courts have imposed a duty to retreat on law-abiding people who are attacked by criminals.

"No law-abiding citizen should be forced to retreat from an attacker ... in their homes or any place they have a legal right to be," Hammer said.

"Under existing law you have a duty to try to run and maybe get chased down and beat to death," she added. "Now, if you have a knife, firearm or pepper spray, you can use force to protect yourself."

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Questionable effect

Willie Meggs, who was president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association when the Legislature considered the bill this spring, said it solves a problem that doesn't exist.

"We may not have any problems with it, and if we don't, that's fine," said Meggs, the state attorney for Leon County. "But what I worry about, and I don't know if it will come to fruition, is that people who should be prosecuted will have a defense for using force when they didn't need to."

In signing the bill into law last spring, Gov. Jeb Bush said it "defies common sense" to force people to retreat when they're in a life-threatening situation.

But the Brady Campaign, established by former presidential spokesman Jim Brady, who was wounded during an assassination attempt on President Reagan, and Brady's wife, Sarah, plans to aggressively advertise on the Internet to warn out-of-state tourists.

The group is also running ads in the travel sections of the Boston Globe, Detroit Free Press, Chicago Tribune and likely some London newspapers beginning Sunday. They will also be putting up billboards in places where they can be easily seen by tourists and passing out the airport fliers in English and Spanish.

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