Florida tourists warned that locals could shoot them

IT IS Britain's most popular transatlantic holiday destination, attracting more than 1.5 million visitors a year with its sun-drenched beaches, theme parks and wildlife.

But Florida's 30 billion tourism industry is under threat from a campaign launched by a gun-control group which warns visitors they could be killed.

A series of alarming adverts, to be placed in British newspapers, warns potential tourists about a new law allowing gun owners to shoot anyone they believe threatens their safety.

It means thousands of British families who travel to the Sunshine State are now caught up in the ongoing political row over gun control in the United States.

The Florida law, supported by the National Rifle Association, was approved by the state legislature in April.

The state's governor, Jeb Bush - whose brother is the US president - described it as a "good, commonsense, anti-crime issue".

Critics call it the "shoot first" law and say it allows gun owners to shoot if they engage in a simple argument in public. Supporters call it the "stand your ground" law and say criminals will think twice before attacking someone.

Previously, gun owners could only use their weapons if they first attempted to withdraw and avoid a confrontation, and were permitted to shoot threatening individuals only inside their home or property.

Now they can use "deadly force" if they "reasonably believe" that firing their gun is necessary to prevent a crime or serious injury. The law also effectively prevents civil legal action by victims of such shootings.

The Brady Campaign to Control Gun Violence, based in Washington DC, has pledged to "educate" tourists by placing adverts in US cities, and in key overseas markets such as Britain.

"Warning: Florida residents can use deadly force," says one of the adverts. Another reads: "Thinking about a Florida vacation? Please ensure your family is safe. In Florida, avoid disputes. Use special caution in arguing with motorists on Florida roads."

The Brady Campaign - named after Jim Brady, the spokesman for Ronald Reagan who was paralysed by a gunshot during the 1981 assassination attempt on the then-president - promises to also run adverts in French, German and Japanese newspapers. The campaign officers also plan to hand out leaflets on roads leading into the state.

Peter Hamm, the communications director of the Brady Campaign, said: "It's a particular risk faced by travellers coming to Florida for a vacation because they have no idea it's going to be the law of the land. If they get into a road rage argument, the other person may feel he has the right to use deadly force."

Tourism officials in Florida are furious at the move. Bud Nocera, the executive director of Visit Florida, said: "It is sad that such an organisation would hold the 900,000 men and women who work in the Florida tourism industry, and whose lives depend on it, hostage to their political agenda."

The Association of British Travel Agents yesterday said the posters were "a matter of concern", but said there was unlikely to be a drop in the number of visitors to Florida.

It said 1.4 million Britons made the journey last year, attracted by the weather and resorts such as Disneyworld and the Kennedy Space Centre.

A spokeswoman said: "We would offer the same advice about Florida as we would any other part of the United States. As far as we are concerned, nothing has changed."

More than 80 million tourists from around the world visited Florida last year, boosting an industry that accounts for one-fifth of the state economy.

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