Permitless carry under HB 543 goes into effect this Saturday, July 1, ending the requirement for people to complete a firearms training course and undergo a background check before taking their guns into public spaces.
Depending on who you ask, it's about to turn Florida into the Wild Wild West or a haven for Second Amendment rights.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill in April with little fanfare, a stark contrast to his culture-war bill-signing press conferences where he touts his political stances and makes protracted speeches. His office released a brief statement on this bill's signing, in which DeSantis said, "Constitutional carry is in the books."
The National Rifle Association (NRA) hailed the legislation as a victory for law-abiding gun owners in Florida.
"The NRA is pleased that Florida became the 26th state to approve this protection earlier this year and that Floridians will now have more freedoms," the group said in a statement.
Although licensed gun dealers are required by federal law to run background checks, private sales and some gun show transactions are not bound by that requirement and can sidestep the background check process.
The now-nixed concealed weapons permitting process was seen by gun control advocates as a safeguard to ensure that folks who bought their guns through the gun show-private seller loophole still had to go through a background check before walking around town with their weapons.
"What we have here is a society that is going to be further enmeshed in gun violence when gun violence is already a huge problem in the United States and just getting worse," Patricia Brigham, president of Prevent Gun Violence Florida, tells New Times.
New Times spoke with a menagerie of stakeholders, ranging from law enforcement to gun control groups to firearms training specialists, about the impending implementation of the law. While Second Amendment defenders maintained that the fallout from permitless carry is overhyped, detractors said it stands to increase gun theft, homicides in public places, and crime in general.
What can't be argued is that the cat's already out of the bag on large-scale gun ownership in the Sunshine State.
Florida had 2.5 million concealed weapon permit holders as of May 31, more than double the number a decade ago, according to data collected by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Though the exact number is not known, there are millions of legally owned guns across the Sunshine State.
Florida logged the 19th highest rate of gun violence in the country as of July 2022, according to a report by the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety. In 2021, more than 1,100 people in Florida were killed in gun homicides, 181 of whom died in Miami-Dade County, health departments statistics show.
"Fragile Ego"David Magnusson, a retired El Portal police chief with 36 years of law enforcement experience, says he's concerned that Florida could see a rise in gun theft rates similar to what other states have seen after passing permitless carry. More gun theft means more firearms in the hands of criminals, a pattern that some gun law research has linked to broad crime rate spikes in permitless-carry states.
Parked cars are currently the largest source of stolen firearms, according to Everytown's analysis of crime data from 271 cities in the U.S. The group found 40,000 guns were stolen from cars across those cities in 2020.
Before the passage of the new law, Florida did not require a concealed carry permit to keep guns in vehicles. Magnusson nonetheless foresees an inevitable uptick in the number of people traveling around with their firearms in light of the loosened regulations.
"This goes hand in hand with gun safety: a car is not a gun safe," Magnusson says. "You're gonna have a lot more car break-ins and they'll be fishing for guns because they know that there's going to be guns left in cars. I can't tell you how many times I had to sit down with victims and mildly chastise them and say, 'a car is not a gun safe.'"
Magnusson also pointed to what is perhaps the most obvious concern about the law's passage: that more spontaneous gun-related homicides will occur after disputes break out at concerts, bars, and other public venues. He claims the more armed patrons there are in public, the more minor skirmishes or arguments will turn deadly, namely when people have been drinking alcohol.
Florida does not allow firearms around bar areas but, as Magnusson points out, managers aren't generally running metal detectors and patdowns on patrons.
"What happens, for the untrained people, when you got a little libation in you, you are not thinking clearly, or you have a fragile ego, and because of a fistfight or something, you got the worst of it and rather than shake it off, you decide to pull out a gun because it's there," Magnusson says.
Florida still has a ban on openly carrying guns, and the state generally prohibits taking concealed firearms into schools, courthouses, and polling places, among other locations.
Bob Harvey, chief instructor and president of South Florida Gun School, argues that the more than 20 states that have permitless carry on the books have not experienced "all the doom and gloom" that some are predicting will happen when the law goes into effect.
Harvey contends the permitting process for concealed carry has no impact on crime, claiming it was a way for the state to make money.
"I have mixed emotions about training — the state-required training was minuscule at best. You could go into a gun show and in an hour they called you trained where you shot one round," Harvey tells New Times. "The reality is people that own guns should have a responsibility to continue their own training, although forced training by states I have a problem with. It would make me more money, but on the other side of it, on a constitutional basis, it doesn't hold water. You don't have to take training to exercise any other right that you have."
By the NumbersThose who are more wary of the law say that permitless carry is a recipe for worsening violent crime, especially in a state that preempts local governments from passing firearms restrictions. Under Florida law, city and county governments have no control over gun law and must yield to state restrictions.
Private businesses can make their own rules on gun-toting, but many do not, whether because of conservative leanings or for fear of offending customers.
"Now we have, perhaps in every aisle of a Publix store, someone wandering around with a gun in their bag that they learned how to load on YouTube," Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, tells New Times. "That puts people in extreme danger every day, especially at a time when tensions are so high."
As press secretary of the LGBTQ group Equality Florida, Wolf fears that loosening Florida gun law is a dangerous development in light of the vitriol bubbling against the LGBTQ community.
Wolf, who grew up around guns in rural Oregon, points to research from GVPedia, a gun-violence research group that found gun homicide rates increased by 22 percent in states that passed permitless carry whereas the rate increased by ten percent nationwide over a three-year period.
Other research has shown a less marked effect on homicide rates after permitless carry passage.
The authors of a peer-reviewed study published three years ago in the Journal of General Internal Medicine examined a wide range of gun-control laws and their effect on crime rates and found that implementing state-level so-called "shall-issue" permit laws, which entitle gun owners to concealed-carry permits if they meet basic criteria, was associated with a nine-percent increase in homicide rates. Further loosening of regulations by implementing permitless carry did not significantly increase homicide rates, the authors found.
In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the strictest category of concealed-carry permit regulations: "may-issue" regimes in which a state has wide permit-issuing discretion and can require applicants to show "good cause" as to why they needed a permit. In a 6-3 decision, the court deemed may-issue regimes to be an unconstitutional infringement on Second Amendment rights.
After DeSantis announced his intent to pass permitless carry last year, Stanford Law professor John Donahue told New Times that funding for research into gun laws' effect on crime rates was suppressed for years under the thumb of lobbyists.
"There's been a calculated effort, very much in the same way the tobacco industry engaged, to either subvert the truth by trying to raise questions about studies or by trying to stop funding of research," Donahue said.
During the past legislative session, some Republican statehouse members attempted to further loosen Florida gun regulations by partially reversing a 2018 law that raised the minimum age to buy firearms in the state to 21. That law, which also set up a "red-flag" court process to restrict firearm access for people who have made violent threats, was passed in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland.
The measure to raise the age of purchase died in committee in May.
On the other side of the aisle, attempts by state senator Linda Stewart from Orlando to strengthen the state's safe gun-storage law as part of the permitless carry legislation were struck down as well.
Stray BulletsMagnusson, who worked for the Miami Police Department and served as the police chief in Havelock, North Carolina, before taking his position at the helm of the El Portal police department, says the permitless carry law will likely lead to more accidental discharges and bystander injuries in public even if there are more "good guys with a gun."
In May, after bringing his pistol to Flanigan's in Surfside without a concealed weapons permit and accidentally discharging it in the bathroom — causing a frenzy inside the restaurant — a Miami Beach man told police he mistakenly thought the new permitless carry law was already in effect. (He claimed he underwent training but never acquired his permit.) No one was hurt in the incident.
Firearm instructor Carlos Gutierrez from Florida Defensive Training in Miami tells New Times training is "paramount" but that he does not think it should be mandated by the government.
"I believe in the Second Amendment period and I don't believe we should be told how we should carry or if we should carry," he says. "But I do believe that in order to defend ourselves properly, we have to not only have the legal education but the training as far as the physical part...and tactics associated with neutralizing that threat."
"Ignorance is never an excuse," Gutierrez says.