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February 13, 2008

10 Items or Fewer…Strictly Enforced

“Shop till you drop” almost took on new meaning after a tense confrontation at a Winn-Dixie grocery store in Miramar, Florida, last Thanksgiving Eve. Frustrated at having to wait in a long checkout line, Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman drew a concealed handgun and pushed it into the side of 18-year-old Lazavius Hudson, who Salesman claimed had too many items in his cart.

A video captured by surveillance cameras at the store
shows Salesman, a concealed carry permit holder in the state, brandishing his .45 caliber handgun after a brief verbal confrontation with Hudson. After pulling his gun, Salesman is reported to have taunted the other customers in the store, saying, “they can call the police.” He apparently was confident that he would not go to jail for the offense and told police that he pulled the gun because he felt threatened.

Salesman has since been charged with aggravated assault with a firearm and removed from the city council by Florida Governor Charlie Crist. Although Salesman by all objective standards was not under any real threat at the Winn-Dixie, his claim to police that he “felt threatened” may allow him to cite a new Florida law in his defense at his upcoming trial.

Florida’s “Shoot First” statute, which became law in 2005, eliminates the duty to retreat from a threat and allows residents to use deadly force anywhere they are legally permitted to be to stop the commission of a “forcible felony.” Any felony that involves the threat or use of physical violence against an individual is included under the auspices of the law. Individuals need not meet some reasonable standard of fear of such a threat to their safety, but rather must only subjectively affirm that they felt threatened. The burden of proof in these cases falls upon the prosecution, who must prove a defendant’s state of mind wasn’t one in which he/she felt threatened.

Fortunately, Hudson was not physically harmed and will be able to testify in the case and go on with his life. We regret to say that Florida’s Shoot First law has already led to several shootings that resulted in the deaths of unarmed civilians. We believe that every citizen, innocent or guilty, has the right to a fair trial by jury where there is an objective standard as to what constitutes “reasonable force.” By enacting a Shoot First law, the Sunshine State has chosen the path of vigilantism over that of reason and allowed momentary bouts of hubris to determine the course of lives. For this reason, future Fitzroy Salesmans will undoubtedly feel emboldened.