By Michael E. Miller
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By Luther Campbell
Juan Carlos Zapata, the dashing Colombian state representative from Miami-Dade County, insists during a recent interview he has no need to carry a pistol on his person. "I own some firearms, but I generally don't have them on me," Zapata says. Yet the 39-year-old Miami Sunset Senior High School graduate is among the more than 40,000 people in Miami-Dade who have licenses to carry concealed firearms (meaning these individuals may carry handguns holstered inconspicuously on themselves). Zapata's arsenal consists of a nine-millimeter handgun and a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, the hand-held howitzer popularized by Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry character. "I'm really not a big gun guy," Zapata continues. "I'm not a hunter. Heck, I don't even shoot paintballs."
The Republican legislator, however, is a big believer in granting citizens the power to defend themselves, their families, and their property from home-invading and car-jacking thugs. That is why Zapata, along with other members of the Miami-Dade state legislative delegation, sponsored a House bill officially signed by Gov. Jeb Bush granting immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action to people who use deadly force in protecting themselves against deadly attackers and intruders. Under old state law, if someone was being robbed, raped, stabbed (you get the picture), he or she was required to retreat in the face of threatened violence and avoid confrontation. Armed citizens were also precluded from using lethal force after a crime had been completed or the perpetrator had surrendered.
Here's an example of how the new law works: Johnny is about to get carjacked by three menacing thugs -- one armed, two unarmed -- at the BP gas station on the corner of Fourteenth Street and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Johnny grabs his Ruger .45 caliber pistol and busts a few rounds at his would-be attackers, killing one of them. Guess what? Johnny would walk free and clear because the new law removes the "duty to retreat" requirement. "It essentially means you can shoot at someone who is prowling in your back yard and pointing a machine gun at you," Zapata relates. "The reality is that we live in a violent society, and folks should have the right to protect themselves."
The possibility of open season in gun-happy Miami-Dade launched New Times into action. The citizens of this county have a right to know who among them is packing heat. With that in mind, we obtained an electronic database listing the names of the people in our glorious subtropical paradise who have licenses for concealed pieces. In addition to individuals we might expect to carry guns -- minimart owners, tow truck drivers, private investigators, strip club managers, and nightclub owners -- greedy developers, blood-sucking lobbyists, pompous politicians, as well as architects, judges, and musicians are strapped in the Magic City.
Will a state bill granting individuals immunity from prosecution for using deadly force in self-defense lead to more back-yard shootouts? How can you get a license to arm yourself inconspicuously? And who's got a bigger pistola: Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez or Hialeah Mayor-for-Life Raul Martinez? The lowdown on the down-low
Who owns guns?
As of March 31, Florida has 131,629 people with licenses to carry concealed firearms. Miami-Dade has 40,561 men and women with permission from the state to tote tucked guns. There are approximately 29,831 white licensees, including Hispanics, compared to less than 5200 blacks with legally concealed weapons. In Miami Beach alone there are more than 900 people with pistol licenses.
How do you get a license?
First, you'll have to submit an application to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is charged with the constitutional duty of arming Florida's citizenry. But handling a concealed firearm is like downing twenty shots of José Cuervo tequila: With great power comes great responsibility. So you have to be at least 21 years old to apply for one. You'll have to drop $75 the first time you apply for the license, which runs for five years, and an additional $42 for fingerprint processing. You'll have to fork over another $70 each time you renew it. You must provide your full name, address, place and date of birth, and occupation. If you're pimping hoes or selling crack in the Magic City, just write down "entrepreneur." But always remember that state licensing officials use your fingerprints to run Florida Department of Law Enforcement and FBI criminal background checks on you. So if you're one of Miami's many convicted felons, celebrity or otherwise, you're scarred because the state will not issue you a license. The state will also deny a license if you have been committed to an insane asylum, sent to a drug rehab clinic, or convicted on a drug-related misdemeanor within the last three years from the date of your application.
How long does it take to obtain a concealed firearms license?
It usually takes 90 days to get your license. However, if you have your fingerprints taken electronically, you could get the license in less than 50 days. Or you could wait until the next local gun show, where you can take a four-hour course and walk out with a concealed firearms license by the time the show closes for the day.