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Florida boosts gun rights, igniting a debate

A new law allows residents to employ 'deadly force' in public places - part of a new nationwide drive by gun lobby.

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When 16-year-old Mark Drewes knocked on a neighbor's door in Boca Raton, Fla., and then ran away as a prank, he was shot dead by homeowner Jay Levin. Mr. Levin, who said afterward that he mistook the boy for a robber out to attack him, was sentenced to 52 weekends in jail for manslaughter.

Now, 18 months later, the state has enacted a law that opponents fear will only encourage more gun owners like Levin to adopt a "shoot first, think later" approach - and this time get away without punishment. But others see the new measure, which allows people to meet "force with force" in public places without fear of punishment, as a vital way for people to protect their homes and families.

The law is kicking off a fierce new debate over the availability of guns in society - one that extends way beyond Florida.

Eighteen years ago, the state adopted legislation allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons in public places. It became the impetus for dozens of other states to pass similar laws.

Now the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) has chosen Florida to launch this latest gun initiative, in hopes of once again taking its campaign nationwide. Consequently, lobbyists on both sides are gearing up for a national fight.

This law "worries me terribly," says Sarah Brady, chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "This is just a license to kill."

Building on a preexisting statute known as the "castle doctrine," the new law seals the right of residents to employ "deadly force" to protect their homes and vehicles.

Most significantly, it now extends that right to public places, too, meaning that a person no longer has a duty to retreat from what they perceive to be a threatening situation before they are entitled to pull the trigger. Members of the public may now stand their ground and "meet force with force," it states, without fear of criminal prosecution or civil litigation. "It's common sense to allow people to defend themselves," said Gov. Jeb Bush (R) as he signed the new law.

OK Corral or safety measure?

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