Florida’s Gun Laws Are Putting People in Prison for Standing Their Ground

Post Date: November 14, 2013

gun+laws1(VICE) — 10-20-Life is one of the most severe laws of its kind in the country. It confers a minimum sentence of ten years upon any person convicted of a felony while simply brandishing—not shooting—a firearm, even if the weapon is legally obtained. The firing of that gun, even if the bullet doesn’t actually hit a human being, bumps the sentence up to 20. If the defendant is a good enough shot to hit a person, he or she necessarily faces 25 to life, even if the victim doesn’t die. 

Such a law would be sensible—shouldn’t gun use be strictly regulated?—if it weren’t for the fact that 10-20-Life, in spirit and in practice, contradicts another, more famous, Florida state law: statute 776.013, more commonly known as Stand Your Ground. While Stand Your Ground legally gives people who are attacked the right to defend themselves with guns and lethal force, 10-20-Life guarantees many of them will be punished for doing so. So while someone such as George Zimmerman can be acquitted of a shooting in large part by relying on the standards of self-defense outlined by Stand Your Ground, others, like Marissa Alexander—a 33-year-old mother who was sent to prison after firing a warning shot to scare off her abusive husband—get no such lenience. Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison thanks to 10-20-Life. 

The Tampa Bay Times reported in February of 2012 that Florida spends $2.4 billion a year to run their prison system, which is currently the third largest in the nation. The prison population is expected to rise from 100,000 in 2011 to 103,000 in 2014. 10-20-Life only adds to that statistic. In 2006, 4,825 people were convicted under the law. 2,743 of them will be serving at least 10 years in the system. According to the advocacy group, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, several of these people were convicted for firing warning shots like Marissa Alexander, or shot in self-defense, as Michael Giles says he did. Read article