Florida Legislature Passes “Self Defense Act” Related to Bears


The Florida Legislature passed legislation that will allow people to shoot bears in defense of people, pets or property in response to examples of close encounters in North Florida.

The bills, sponsored by Rep. Jason Shoaf and Sen. Corey Simon, were titled the “Self Defense Act,” and codify that individuals may use deadly force if, “the person reasonably believed that his or her action was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to himself or herself or another, an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to a pet, or substantial damage to a dwelling.”

“This bill is not about bears. We keep saying it. We love bears. They are cute and cuddly and an amazing creature. This is about a nuisance bear that has become conditioned to coming into people’s homes,” Shoaf said during the Infrastructure Strategies Committee meeting on Jan. 30. “We’re talking about the ones that are on crack and they break your door down and they’re standing in your living room growling and tearing your house apart…So when you run into one of these crack bears, you should be able to shoot it. Period.”

Opponents of the bills argued that education campaigns, bear-resistant garbage cans, additional resources for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other measures may be better alternatives to shooting. Others argued that the law already allows for self-defense, but Shoaf cited cases where people were prosecuted for shooting bears in self-defense. The sponsors also argued that the disparity between the current FWC rule, which prohibits shooting bears, and Florida’s laws on self-defense could be seen as conflicting and confuse people.

Simon argued that while the bills allow shooting, it is not required.

“This isn’t a mandate by any stretch of the imagination,” Simon said. “If a bear shows up in your home, in your porch, you’re not obligated to shoot that bear.”

The bills prohibit such actions if someone intentionally or recklessly places themselves or a pet in a situation where they would likely need to use lethal force. It requires notification to FWC and disposal by the Commission, prohibiting people from using or selling the bear or its parts.

According to FWC, black bears have lived in Florida for several thousand years, with roughly 4,000 currently residing in Florida. Bears are typically found throughout pockets of the state, including central and eastern Florida, southwest Florida, and throughout the Florida panhandle and coastal areas.