Between "Stand Your Ground" and the weekly insane-crime news, Florida is about as close to the Wild West as it gets in today's America. So it's genuinely a surprise that the Sunshine State is somehow one of six states that still prohibit the public from carrying weapons in plain sight.
Fresh off the heels of the latest mass shooting in Oregon, Florida legislators are set to debate changing that fact. The father-son duo of Rep. Matt Gaetz and Sen. Don Gaetz have filed matching bills that would let Floridians flash their muzzles wherever they'd like.
Specifically, the bills — SB 300 and HB 163 — would allow anyone with a concealed-weapons permit to "openly carry such firearm or weapon." Anyone who infringes on that right could face a $5,000 fine, with up to $100,000 in fines to government entities that try to keep guns in the gun closet.
Could the bills have a chance? One reason that open carry hasn't come to Florida — despite the overwhelming power of gun lobbyists in Republican-dominated Tallahassee — is that the powerful Florida Sheriffs Association has fought such laws. But the winds might just be shifting on that front.
Don and Matt Gaetz spoke about their proposals this morning and reportedly said the sheriffs back their move.
Rep. Matt Gaetz and Sen. Don Gaetz promote open-carry gun legislation with support of sheriffs. pic.twitter.com/E3fUHNspZp— Steve Bousquet (@stevebousquet) October 6, 2015
New Times has contacted the Sheriffs Association to confirm it's backing the bills and to inquire as to why its position has shifted; we'll update this post when we hear back. (Update 11 a.m.: The Sheriffs Association has yet to take a stance on the bills — which passed a subcommittee this morning — but Brevard County's sheriff spoke in favor of it.)
If the sheriffs are indeed backing the Gaetz bills, there's a damn good chance you'll see handguns and long guns on the streets of Florida by the end of this legislative session.
The bills are actually just one piece of a larger fight to bring the looser gun rules to the state; a parallel fight is ongoing in the court system, where a man named Dale Norman — who was arrested after walking down the street in Fort Pierce with a .38-caliber handgun on his waist — has appealed his conviction to the state supreme court in an effort to overturn the anti-open-carry laws. (The justices have yet to set a hearing date on his efforts.)
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So what do open-carry laws actually mean for safety? Advocates regularly cite local crime data and argue that such laws deter violent criminals.
But there's also plenty of evidence to the contrary. A Stanford study last year linked general right-to-carry laws with increased violent crime levels, while advocacy groups such as the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence argue that open carry "intimidates the public, wastes law enforcement resources, and creates opportunities for injury and death due to the accidental or intentional use of firearms."
The bottom line is that violent crime is an extraordinarily complicated subject; linking correlation to causation is almost impossible in studies of gun laws in either direction.
So the underlying question is whether Floridians would really feel safer by mimicking Texas, where open-carry advocates with long guns slung over their shoulders stroll into fast-food joints.