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Common sense in Tallahassee? We've got the gun bill to prove it

What a banner year in Tallahassee for pushing Florida back decades.

We watched our Legislature pass one bill to make it harder for us to vote and another to force a woman who wants a legal abortion to get an ultrasound to review first.

No, the Republicans who dominate the Legislature swore with perfectly straight faces, the first is absolutely not about keeping away people who would vote for Barack Obama in 2012. And the second most certainly has nothing to do with moralistic government meddling.

And so, given those and other setbacks in this particularly nasty session, I say with reluctance:

When it comes to a bill that would have allowed people to carry guns in the open, lawmakers got it right. There, I said it.

The so-called open-carry bill was a nightmare scenario for police, prosecutors and anyone who cares about attracting tourist dollars to Florida. Anyone with a concealed weapons permit could carry a gun out in the open, at the beach or on their hip at the convenience store.

What fun for police, and what a nice image for our state.

Proponents insisted this was really all about protecting a legal permit holder from being harassed by police for accidentally exposing his gun should, say, his shirt lift up.

They pointed to a case from 2004 in which a fellow with a perfectly legal permit was arrested and jailed after the end of his gun poked out of a hole in his shorts. The state attorney declined to prosecute, the man sued, and the case was settled out of court.

While that sounds like a bad deal, it's hard to imagine a widespread problem of police dragging legal permit holders off to jail every time there's a strong wind. But a truly accidental glimpse — not someone in a heated faceoff who lifts his shirt as a threat to show he's packing — ought not be subject to arrest.

But is it worth passing a law that says anyone with a permit can carry in the open, potentially making us the Wild West state?

Even with impassioned arguments from law enforcement, it looked like that was where we were headed. Maybe clearer heads prevailed, or maybe it was the usual horse trading, but in the end, reason ruled.

The final version of the bill says it's not a crime for a person with a concealed weapons permit "to briefly and openly display the firearm to the ordinary sight of another person, unless the firearm is intentionally displayed in an angry or threatening manner, not in necessary self defense."

And, voila. The dreaded "open carry law" becomes the sensible "oops law."

I asked NRA powerhouse Marion Hammer what she thought of the morphing of the bill.

"The language we have now is about as close as you can get to eliminating the problem," she says. "But I'm not convinced it will eliminate the problem, and if it doesn't, we'll be back and we will find a way to fix it." If you have had dealings with Ms. Hammer and the powerful NRA, you know you can take that to the bank.

Even law enforcement officers who fought so hard against becoming the gunslinger state sounded surprised.

"Common sense prevailed," said Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats, to which I can only add: Yeah, but it's Tallahassee. Don't get used to it.

Common sense in Tallahassee? We've got the gun bill to prove it 05/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 8:35pm]

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