Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Politics

Romano: Open carry, campus carry — why not wait and see?

The numbers, we have been told, are clear. No room for argument or interpretation.

Living in modern-day Florida is like strolling through the streets of Happyville, USA. The governor and the state's top law enforcement official announced last year that crime in Florida had dropped to levels not seen since the days of bell-bottom jeans.

And remarkably, in 2015, the crime rate has dropped even lower.

All of which raises an interesting point:

Why so trigger-happy?

To hear lawmakers in Tallahassee explain it, you run the risk of murder, rape and mayhem every time you open your front door. You should be packing heat everywhere you go, and preferably in a holster that everyone can see.

And yet our very own leaders swear we are safer than we have been since those Monday nights in the 1970s when the Doris Day Show followed Mayberry R.F.D. on CBS.

So why are we in such a hurry to pass a law that encourages bumpkins and CEOs alike to openly carry guns in public? Why are legislators insisting that it's a good idea to buck national trends and allow students to carry guns on college campuses?

Why are our politicians wetting their beds over exaggerated boogeymen?

"That's really what drives me crazy,'' said Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. "There is no public clamoring for this. It's just a concerted effort by the gun lobby, and the legislators are following along.''

This isn't a suggestion that guns be restricted, or that criminals don't exist. It's just questioning the wisdom of expanding gun laws in ways that may not help.

This seems to be where we go off the rails when it comes to gun talks. Liberals warn about doomsday gun fights, and conservatives shout about constitutional rights. Statistical evidence gets overrun by anecdotal or theoretical arguments.

And this is why it might be a good time for Florida to hit the pause button.

Instead of pointing to Sandy Hook as a reason why we should arm everyone, and instead of pointing to Trayvon Martin as a reason why we should limit gun ownership, Florida would be better off waiting to see what happens in Texas in the coming years.

By population, geography, diversity and sensibilities, Texas is probably the closest thing Florida has to a sibling state. And our friends in the land of the Lone Star have been kind enough to leap without looking into the waters of looser gun laws.

Texas recently became the largest state in America to legalize both open carry and guns on college campuses. It has, in effect, become a comparable test study for Florida.

If conservatives are correct, crime rates in Texas should go down at a rapid pace. If liberals are correct, the unintended consequences should be plain to see.

Either way, we should have a better sense of whether it's a brilliant idea or an absolute disaster (or, more likely, somewhere in between) to have open carry in a large, Southern state with multiple metropolitan areas. Same goes for introducing guns on campus among dozens of unique colleges and universities.

Gun-happy lawmakers and bill sponsors such as Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, are probably not going to like the idea of a more logical and methodical approach to legislation, but they have no compelling evidence to suggest a hasty path needs to be taken.

The truth is Florida streets are safer today than they were 10 years ago. Or even 40 years ago. And the truth is college campuses are even safer than Florida streets.

Steube and Gaetz are ignoring the advice of law enforcement professionals across the state to instead pander to NRA lobbyists and their base.

They take advantage of highly publicized tragedies, and they use scare tactics to convince people that the world is not safe without a Glock within hand's reach.

And, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with either owning or carrying a handgun. The question is whether we need to make gun laws even more permissible.

Lawmakers are quick to point out that these proposed bills are only designed for residents with concealed weapons permits. The inference is that passing new gun-friendly laws makes perfect sense because it will only affect responsible gun owners.

But the way they're going about it doesn't seem all that responsible.

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