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More states get rid of requiring concealed weapons licenses; Florida could be next

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 12/20/2021 Angie DiMichele, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Florida could become the next state in a growing number that allows people to carry their guns, openly or concealed, without requiring a permit.

Gun owners who now carry hidden under their clothes would be able to walk freely into coffee shops, grocery stores and other public places with their weapons visible.

The topic of “constitutional carry” is again surfacing this legislative session as a priority for conservatives and gun advocates in Florida.

Proponents say allowing gun owners to carry openly or concealed without licenses reflects the Second Amendment, that it will deter crime and remove cost barriers and time lags for people who want to defend themselves, with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services saying the turn-around time to get the license is about 50 to 55 days.

Opponents worry about what kind of atmosphere it could create in Florida, raise safety concerns for the public and law enforcement and say data shows more guns carried in public places lead to increased violent crime.

The future of Florida as a state that does not require licenses to carry guns, said University of Miami Law professor and constitutional law expert Stephen Schnably, would send a message that gun owners would not need “to worry really realistically about too much regulation of guns in Florida.”

A Republican state legislator has filed the bill for the third year in a row, and recently, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seeking re-election in 2022 and widely believed to be considering a run for president in 2024, said he supported the bill.

In the six-second video recently posted online, Matt Collins, director of legislation for Florida Gun Rights, asks DeSantis, “If constitutional carry made your desk, would you sign it?”

“Of course,” DeSantis answers.

Momentum across the country

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, would both remove the requirement of a concealed weapons license in order to carry a gun and allow Floridians to carry them visibly. It also means no gun owner would have to pay an application fee, a fingerprinting fee and varying costs for the required safety training courses or classes some of the current application requirements.

The bill would also reduce the penalty for bringing a gun into a prohibited place, such as courthouses, polling places and campuses, from a third-degree felony to a second-degree misdemeanor — changing the maximum punishment from five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine to 60 days in jail and a maximum $500 fine.

The same bill died in the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions, and it remains to be seen how far the legislation could go in an election year where other priorities are likely to supersede gun laws.

But there is a growing number of states that are passing similar legislation, and some think the momentum for permitless carry across the country could make Florida the next place ripe for it.

Currently, 21 states have “constitutional carry” laws, meaning they do not require licenses to carry a weapon or firearm openly or concealed, according to Collins’ group, the state National Association for Gun Rights affiliate. The Ohio Senate passed a bill to remove the requirement for concealed carry licenses this week.

With DeSantis expressing support, Sabatini wrote in a recent op-ed published with John R. Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, in the Orlando Sentinel that the bill’s “chances of adoption have greatly improved.”

Anybody who can legally own a gun “should be able to carry a firearm at any given time,” Sabatini told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “I think it’s important to have a law on the books to allow people to defend themselves without government permission.”

Luis Valdes, Florida state director for Gun Owners of America and retired Florida law enforcement officer who supports the bill, said the current license requirement in Florida “turns a right into a privilege,” one that proponents fear could be taken away.

“The idea of having to get a permission slip from the government to exercise an inalienable right that an individual is born with is ludicrous. That’s why 21 states have passed it,” Valdes said.

But even calling it constitutional carry, the term advocates use, fans the flames for its opponents.

“There’s nothing constitutional about it, at least not now ... So that’s the term that gun industry and gun activists want you to use. But it’s a very biased term,” said Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The organization’s year-end report says five states in 2021 alone removed laws that required concealed carry permits: Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, Tennessee and Utah.

“Guns carried in public pose a substantial threat to public safety. A robust body of academic literature shows that when more people carry guns in public, violent crime increases,” the organization’s year-end report says, and the organization cites research that says in ”states with weak permitting laws, violent crime rates were 13% to 15% higher than predicted” than if not in place and that “weak concealed-carry permitting laws are also associated with 11% higher rates of homicide committed with handguns compared with states with stronger permitting systems.”

“Having a gun actually makes you and the people around you more likely to be shot. So, by bringing guns into public, everyday disagreements are more likely to turn into shootouts,” Anderman said.

The Supreme Court has not ruled that it is unconstitutional to require a permit to carry a gun, said Schnably, who also thinks the court unlikely to do so.

Record-breaking gun purchases

More than 2.4 million people in Florida have concealed weapon or firearms licenses, according to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ recent data, and in the last year, the department saw a record-breaking flood of applicants, having received over 38,000 new applications and over 8,500 renewal applications in October 2020 alone an all-time high for the state.

“Gun ideas are driven by people’s personal experiences. If you’ve had a loved one who is a victim of a gun, you’re going to have a very different attitude than somebody whose child has not or whose child is out in a rural area learning to hunt,” said Susan MacManus, a retired political science professor at the University of South Florida.

“Guns in a metropolitan area means violence and crime. Guns in other parts of the state, like the Panhandle or very rural places, can mean food if you’re hunting for food … It means different things in different parts of the state, and that’s what makes it so different on how representatives in Tallahassee vote on gun issues,” MacManus said.

Many gun owners would carry safely, retired Broward Sheriff’s Office Captain Neal Glassman said, and would do so for self defense, but Glassman said he is concerned about issues that may arise for law enforcement if Florida got rid of a license requirement.

Glassman said he believes it should be reasonably easy for Floridians to purchase guns and that with murders having increased from 2019 to 2020 in Broward County, there’s a growing want for people to be able to defend themselves. But with that, “there are reasonable restrictions,” Glassman said.

At the start of the pandemic, the FBI reported a record-breaking number of new gun purchases nationally and in Florida. And crime statistics the FBI released in September show violent crime in the country increased for the first time in four years compared to the previous year’s numbers.

“Gun purchases were setting all kinds of records, so this would just be another outcrop of that,” Glassman said. “People are buying guns, people are scared …”

But more guns in public could equate to more poor snap-judgment decisions from both the public and police, Glassman said, and further complicate identifying law-abiding gun owners from those illegally carrying or those with ill intent.

“Now you have people walking around openly carrying. How do you determine if that person is a good-standing citizen or worse? It’s tough,” Glassman said.


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