Glenn Reynolds reviews the proposed legislation on its merits. He is mildly positive but points out that a talk-radio discussion of the bill “illustrates how quick people are, even on the right, to constitutionalize all sorts of arguments that aren’t really about the Constitution at all.” Hey, it’s the American way.
I don’t have a strong opinion about the Florida bill. IMO people have a right to defend themselves, our society should tolerate individual self-defense efforts, and our laws should reflect that tolerance by not putting gratuitous barriers in the way of people who want to exercise their rights. But I also think it’s important to respect people’s rights to property and contract, and one of the ways to do that is to avoid passing laws that increase the State’s authority over the terms of employer/employee relationships. I think employers are foolish to forbid employees from having guns in their cars, but resolving such issues should be a matter for private negotiation rather than legislation.
However (and here comes the central point of this post), the proposed Florida law isn’t really about Constitutional rights except in a symbolic sense. What it is really about is limiting the power of officials — mayors, police chiefs, prosecutors, etc. — who have a history of abusing their discretionary authority. The current Florida proposal follows enactment of Florida’s new (and much demagogued) “Stand Your Ground” law, which is intended to make it difficult for prosecutors to victimize citizens who defend themselves in their homes, and of Florida’s 1987 concealed-carry law, which substituted a nondiscretionary state-administered permitting regime for the much-abused discretion of local governments.
I have some sympathy for people who complain that the big bad State government is riding roughshod over their local autonomy. Sometimes it’s true. But in other cases the legislature would not have gotten involved if local officials and State’s attorneys had exercised more restraint in applying their considerable discretionary authority. What goes around comes around (at least in politically competitive States like Florida). Officials who treat citizens capriciously should not be surprised when citizens use the legislature to put the officials on a shorter leash.
(Related post: Here)