The law is very broad, widely interpreted and often misunderstood. Don’t find yourself in a situation where misinterpretation causes you to go from singing Auld Lang Syne to Jailhouse Rock. Watch Independent Program Attorney James Phillips share the top 5 gun law misconceptions in Florida.
James Phillips: Over the last couple of years of answering U.S. LawShield members questions over the telephone, we decided to compile a list of some of the top misconceptions our members have regarding the law and firearms.
The first one is if I shoot someone on my porch, do I have to drag the body back inside my house? The answer is absolutely not. Keep in mind that your porch that’s attached to your house is part of your Castle Doctrine. So it is an extension of your home. If you shoot someone justifiably and they fall on your porch do not touch the body. In fact, if you do you are tampering with evidence, which is a third-degree felony. Now, what you cannot do is shoot someone on your porch as they’re running out of your house as they are retreating. So keep in mind if something happens outside the house do not touch the body it is a crime.
The second misconception I get asked about: If a dog comes on to my property can I just shoot it? The answer is no. You cannot shoot a dog that just wanders on to your property. In fact, causing pain to an animal is also a third-degree felony that’s punishable up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Now, if the dog comes on to your property and attacks you, although Florida has no self-defense law involving attacking animals, what we do have is the affirmative defense of necessity. So you may be able to shoot an animal that is attacking you if you follow the requirements of the necessity statute. But just because they go on to your property looking for scrap or going into your trash can doesn’t mean you can shoot them.
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions we get is if a person is trespassing on my property can I fire a warning shot to get them off? Once again, the answer is no. Florida statute 776.031 allows a person to use non-deadly force to expel a trespasser. Firing a warning shot is not non-deadly force, in fact, it is considered deadly force. So you can’t do it. If you do shoot a warning shot at a trespasser you could face charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and because a firearm was discharged in the process of a crime you could face up to 20 years minimum mandatory prison under Florida’s 10/20 life law.
The fourth misconception I get asked about is if I have a handgun on me and it’s unloaded can I still be charged with a felony? And the answer to that is yes. Florida case law has stated an unloaded firearm is a deadly weapon. So if you get into an altercation with someone and you are not justified in brandishing the firearm or using it, when you pull it out, even though it’s unloaded, you could face criminal charges, including felony charges of aggravated assault, cause you have committed assault on someone using a deadly weapon, i.e. the unloaded firearm.
The last misconception I get asked about is what if I have a physical disability and if someone who is younger and in better shape is coming at me can I automatically use deadly force because I will not be able to fight them one-on-one. The answer is no it is not automatic. The jury instructions for justifiable use of deadly force tell the jury that hey in deciding if someone was justified in using deadly force, or even non-deadly force, you can take into consideration the person’s physical disabilities and the attackers physical capabilities. If someone is bigger, stronger than you or you have physical disabilities, yes, you may ultimately be able to use deadly force, but it’s not an automatic. If someone is just approaching you in an aggressive manner they may not be intent on doing physically bodily injury to you or causing death to you. So be very careful you can’t just automatically use deadly force.