On June 21st, 2014, Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 89 (HB 89), making it law. The media inappropriately labeled HB 89 “The warning shot law.” However, nowhere in HB 89 or Florida’s statutes will you find the words “warning shots” used. Instead, you will find the words “threaten to use force” throughout House Bill 89, and now throughout Florida Statute 776.
For example, prior to House Bill 89 being signed into law, Florida Statute 776.012 was titled “Use of Force in Defense of Person,” and only discussed using non-deadly and deadly force. After HB 89 was signed, Florida Statute 776.012’s title changed to “Use or Threatened Use of Force in Defense of Persons,” and now it gives a person the option to use or threaten to use non-deadly or deadly force.
The media took this “threatened use of force” language to mean a person can use a warning shot, believing that a warning shot is a threatened use of force. Based on the media’s coverage of the law, many Floridians believe they can fire a warning shot in various situations, such as:
- a person who wants to fight them without a weapon;
- to scare a trespasser off their property; or
- to prevent someone from stealing their property.
This broad concept of being able to use a warning shot as a threat of force could land you in jail. This video will clarify when you are allowed to and when you are not allowed to fire a warning shot under the law.
Let’s start with an example: One day, walking through the mall while texting your significant other, you accidentally bump into a guy who is obviously in a bad mood. Before you can even apologize to him, he pushes you so hard that you fall to the ground, and then begins yelling that you have messed with the wrong person. As usual, you are carrying your concealed firearm, pursuant to your CWFL. Instead of engaging the guy in the argument, can you fire a warning shot?
Are Warning Shots Allowed?
To answer this question, you will first need to know what Florida Statute 776.012 allows you to legally do. Florida Statute 776.012, Subsection 1, allows a person to use or threaten to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent the person reasonably believes such force is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. Based on the facts of our scenario, although the guy violently pushed you to the ground, he used non-deadly force. Therefore, you would only be able to react using or threatening to use non-deadly force.
Now that we know which level of force we are allowed to use, we must consider whether a warning shot is non-deadly or deadly force. Florida courts have determined that the firing of a firearm in self-defense is the use of deadly force, whether fired intentionally or unintentionally. In this situation, if you were to intentionally fire a warning shot, or accidentally fire your firearm while you were retrieving it from the holster, you have used deadly force by law.
Even though you want to use a warning shot as a threat to deter the attack, and you are firing straight down into the ground, the courts consider this to be the use of deadly force. The firing of a gun is never considered just a threat. In this scenario, under the law, you would be allowed to display your firearm, but not fire it, as Florida courts have determined that display of a firearm is, by law, the use of non-deadly force.
Meet–don’t exceed–their force
In order for you to be able to fire a warning shot in our scenario, which is always the use of deadly force, something more than just a violent push will be needed. For example, if after pushing you to the ground and telling you that you messed with the wrong guy, the man pulls out a knife and moves toward you, that added deadly weapon (a knife), would allow you to go from using or threatening to use non-deadly force to being able to use or threaten to use deadly force. Therefore, you would be able to fire a warning shot to stop the attack.
Ignorance isn’t a defense
Don’t get caught up in what the media or your friends tell you about the law. Remember, ignorance of the law is never a defense. If you are going to be armed, you must be educated on the actual law and what is allowed under the law. You should never rely on what you read online or what others tell you.
If you have any other questions regarding firearms law in Florida, call U.S. LawShield today and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.