Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law Friday a bill that allows people to fire warning shots to scare of would-be assailants.
Gun lobbyists in the state hailed the new law as a victory. It is seen as an extension of the state’s so-called 'Stand Your Ground' laws.
"Self-defense is not a crime. It’s a constitutional right," Marion Hammer, of the National Rifle Association, told Reuters. "Prosecutors have been violating the rights of Florida citizens and this law will stop that.”
The Tallahassee Democrat reports that the new law is one of the most significant changes to Florida’s controversial self-defense laws since the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin. In that case Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, was acquitted on self-defense grounds for killing the unarmed teen.
The new “warning shot” law was inspired partly by the case of Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a gun during an argument with her estranged husband. Her husband was uninjured and Alexander’s defense team argued that the shot was merely a self-defense, warning shot. An appellate court later overturned Alexander’s conviction and ordered a retrial, according to ABC News.
Prosecutors say the new law will not apply retroactively to Alexander’s case, but her defense attorneys are hopeful the judge in the case will consider the law when deciding whether or not to proceed.
"We learned today that Governor Rick Scott has signed the corrective Stand Your Ground Bill, which was advanced by the legislature as a result of concern about Marissa's case among others," read a statement from Alexander’s defense team. "We are of course grateful for the governor's actions.”
Chief legal correspondent for ABC News, Dan Abrams, said the change in the law means that the stand-your-ground defense will most likely be used in more cases in Florida.
"The goal was to expand those special stand-your-ground provisions to firing a warning shot, to expand use of it as a tool for people accused of a crime to claim a form of self-defense," Abrams said.