With more than 350 mass shootings in the United States in 2015, gun violence weighs heavily in everyone's thoughts. Having more guns brandished openly on our streets is not the answer, yet that is exactly what will happen if a very dangerous bill passes in Tallahassee this year.
The "open carry" bill would further weaken Florida's already permissive gun laws by allowing concealed weapon permit holders to carry their guns openly and visibly virtually anywhere. This "Wild West" open carry proposal would make Florida a more dangerous and menacing place, not a safer place. That is why the Florida Sheriffs' Association voted overwhelmingly to oppose this reckless proposal.
The U.S. Supreme Court has solidly recognized second amendment constitutional rights; but, as the Court has repeatedly made clear, these second amendment rights are not absolute. Reasonable restrictions are not only constitutionally allowed but are essential to protect public safety.
Our laws already allow gun purchase rights and gun possession rights without the need of a permit in our homes, vehicles and the great outdoors. Public carrying of a gun is also allowed by existing law, but requires a permit based upon a background check and training. A person with the permit may legally carry a gun in public in a concealed manner. Defeating the open carry proposal would do nothing to curtail any existing gun rights in Florida.
Even those openly carrying a firearm can end up less safe than before. Carrying a firearm openly can make you a target of hardened criminals who will try to steal your gun and possibly use it on you or even follow you home and break in to steal it when you're not there. Those criminals might be deterred from trying to steal a trained law enforcement officer's gun, but many will not hesitate to try to take one from a civilian.
Respected studies, including one from Yale University, found that right-to-carry laws have little or no effect on reducing crime. In fact, the studies found that aggravated assaults increased.
Black Friday 2015 gun purchases sadly set a new record in our state, with almost 15,000 people buying guns. This unsettling number is up nearly 2,000 from 2013. Gun control isn't about restricting freedom or taking firearms legally obtained by law-abiding citizens. Instead, it is about common sense laws that help identify people with a history of violence or mental illness or who are on the FBI'S Terrorist Watchlist.
I hope our elected officials in Tallahassee listen to the concern of Florida's sheriffs – Democrats and Republicans alike - because we understand public safety better than gun industry lobbyists. I plan to testify in Tallahassee against this bill as well as against the "College Carry" bill to allow guns on school grounds. I invite you to join me in letting your legislators know your opinion.
– Sheriff Scott Israel