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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas sheriff draws fire from former NRA president for stance on open carry bill



Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is in the crosshairs of former National Rifle Association president Marion Hammer for his stance against a state bill that would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to openly carry their guns statewide.

Hammer took Gualtieri to task Thursday in an item on the web site of the NRA's Institute for Legislation Action headlined, "Florida Alert! Pinellas Sheriff fights open-carry bill with bad info."

In the message to "members and friends" of the NRA and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, Hammer notes the Florida Sheriffs Association's opposition to the bill and cites what she calls an "inflammatory interview" Gualtieri gave to the Palm Beach Post announcing the FSA's stance (Gualtieri is chairman of the group's legislative committee). The post also refers to an interview Gualtieri gave to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune's Gun Writer blog that Hammer says "exposes the misinformation Sheriff Gaultieri (sic) gave in his Palm Beach Post interview." 

“I am saddened to see so much misunderstanding and erroneous information about a bill that simply protects the rights of law-abiding concealed weapons and firearms license holders,” Hammer told the Gun Writer. “The apparent distrust of law-abiding firearms owners by their sheriffs is indeed very sad and disappointing.”

Hammer, who serves as an NRA board members and is executive director of the USF, also accuses Gualtieri of making the announcement "without having the courtesy of informing the bill sponsors of their opposition." 

"Sen. (Don) Gaetz told me he learned of their opposition when he read it in the news," Hammer writes.

That's "absolutely not true," Gualtieri told Bay Buzz Friday. He said the sheriffs association contacted Gaetz's office Tuesday and notified his staff of the group's stance.

"True to form, Marion takes the position that the best defense is a good offense," Gualtieri said. "She goes after people but I don't care what she says. I'm going to stand up for what I think is right. She needs to get her facts straight before she talks about others getting theirs straight."

Supporters of the legislation sponsored by Republican father-son duo Don Gaetz of Niceville and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach argue it strengthens Second Amendment rights for Americans to defend themselves and protects people who are carrying under the current law and inadvertently show their weapon. 

Gualtieri said he stands by the reasons for his personal opposition to the bill and the concerns cited by the FSA.

Wearing a gun could make people a target for criminals, he said. He offered as an example a bank robber who sees a person openly carrying in a bank.

"If the guy turns around and sees that .45, he's going to blast you," he said.  

Gualtieri has also expressed concern for law enforcement officers who will have trouble distinguishing law-abiding citizens from criminals with dangerous intent.

While proponents of the bill say the state's trespassing law gives businesses the right to ask anyone openly carrying a weapon to leave their property, that may be difficult in reality because businessowners and their employees will be reluctant to "tell the person wearing a .45 to leave," Gualtieri said.

Only the Senate bill includes current restrictions on where a person may carry a concealed weapon. The way the bill is worded could open certain restrictions, such as carrying in a bar or government building, to legal challenges, Gualtieri said.

He said it's "intellectually dishonest" to say open carry laws are working in the 45 other states because there are so many variations in the laws and the demographics. In Pennsylvania, for example, cities can opt out of its open carry law and some, including Philadelphia, do just that, Gualtieri said. Florida cities don't have the option to opt out of a state law.

Oklahoma requires the weapon to be holstered. Florida's bill in its current form does not. 

As for demographics, "You can't compare Sioux Falls, S.D. to downtown Miami or downtown Tampa or downtown Orlando," Gualtieri said.

Gualtieri said he supports making existing law stronger to ensure those who accidentally show their concealed weapon aren't arrested. 

"I strongly believe no good-faith permit holder who made a mistake should be charged with anything," he said. "To me, that's the middle ground. If the whole goal at all costs is to allow people to walk down International Drive with a .45 in their back pocket, there is no middle ground for me. That's not what we need for a state to build its tourism, grow its economy and create a family-friendly environment."

[Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2015 10:02pm]


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