In the post-Charleston aftermath, Jeb Bush on Saturday said he doubted gun control measures supported by President Barack Obama would have prevented recent tragedies, including the church massacre in South Carolina. The former Florida governor, speaking in the early caucus state of Nevada, touted his record on guns as a way to balance public safety and Second Amendment rights.
“Florida is a pro-gun state. Gun violence has dropped. There’s a reason for it,” he told reporters after the event. “We created a balance that’s focused on lowering gun violence but protecting the Second Amendment, and it’s a model for many other countries and many other states because of that.”
Bush proudly touted his A+ rating with the National Rifle Association and called Florida a “freedom-loving state,” but also cited his efforts to combat crime through the “10-20-Life” law, a statute that he campaigned on and enacted as governor. The law, which is still in place, issues a minimum 10-year sentence for anyone who pulls a gun while committing a crime, 20 years for pulling the trigger during a crime and 25 years to life for injuring or killing someone by firing a gun.
Mandatory minimums and other “one size fits all” solutions do not sit well with many Americans and one Florida case shows why in glaring contrast to the former governors claims.
Feb. 6, 2010, active duty Air Force serviceman Michael Giles was invited to a Tallahassee nightclub by a few of his friends. Giles, a young father, was stationed in Tampa at the time, after spending the previous six years on tours of duty in places such as Iraq and Kuwait. Two area fraternity chapters began arguing and fighting inside of the club, and the chaos soon turned into a brawl involving dozens of people that spilled into the club’s parking lot. When Michael made it his friend’s rental car, but didn’t find his friends there, he retrieved his legally owned handgun from the glove box, and resumed his search for his friends.
“I removed the handgun because the car was unlocked and [people] were walking between the cars,” Michael says.
Despite the fact that he was not involved in the fight, while Michael was looking for his friends, he was attacked from behind and punched to the ground. Fearing for his life, he fired two shots from his firearm in an attempt to defend himself. His attacker was struck in the leg, but not seriously injured. He was arrested shortly after the incident and charged in Florida state court. There was little dispute over the facts of the case—the prosecutor and defense attorneys agreed that Michael had been attacked. Even the testimony of Michael’s attacker supported that fact. However, prosecutors argued that he did not need to fire a gun to defend himself, and charged him with attempted murder.
Ultimately, Michael was acquitted of the attempted murder charges, but a jury convicted him of aggravated battery—because a gun was involved, the offense carries a mandatory minimum sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life law. Michael was sentenced to the 25-year minimum required by the law, despite his judge’s strong objections. During trial, and again at sentencing, Michael’s judge expressed concern over the sentence:
“Frankly, I think the 25-year mandatory is overly harsh on the facts of this case, but that’s what the law requires I do….I have no legal authority to impose less than that.”
Giles, who bravely served his country, will be nearly 50 years old when he is released from prison if he doesn’t receive some form of relief.
“I am a father of three beautiful children, and a military veteran who believes in fighting for this country to keep them safe,” Michael says. “[Despite] all of my accomplishments outside of these walls, where I was a standup citizen, in here I just feel like a failure for not being out there with my kids even though I did nothing wrong. It’s hard thinking about all the things you’ve tried to do right, and still end up on the bad side of things.”
Despite Bush’s A+ NRA rating, Florida remains one of only a handful of states with no open carry and concealed carry only with a permit. Not nearly as “gun friendly” as say, Vermont or Arizona. While he touts the 10-20-Life law for gun crimes as contributing to a reduction in gun violence in Florida, using FBI crime reporting statistics, gun violence in Florida indeed went down in the years after the law was enacted in 1999 — but it also went down across the entire country. The Michael Giles case is just one such case of the mandatory minimum being excessive in regards to the facts of the case.
Even a Florida Appellate court found that the 10-20-Life minimums, could be construed as “cruel and unusual” punishment in certain cases. Finding in one case that the mandatory 20 year sentence was “grossly disproportional” to the crime committed.
Michael Giles’ parents are petitioning current Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Clemency Board to commute Michael’s sentence. Commute the 25 Year Mandatory Minimum Sentence for Michael Giles.
Jeb Bush’s campaigning for the “gun vote” may well fall on deaf ears among many of the conservative, small government and libertarian leaning Republicans.