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The NRA's push for guns that changes everything

It should have been nothing more than a mild dispute between neighbors at a suburban park: The older man didn't want a teenager skateboarding there. The dad playing basketball with his little girl defended the teenager.

Turned out the older man had a gun in his waistband and flashed it, according to witnesses. Everything escalated, and now a father is dead, and a 71-year-old man awaits a trial that could put him in prison for the rest of his life.

A gun on the scene can change everything — one of the reasons Florida's law against carrying firearms out in the open makes sense.

But in the next legislative session, if the insatiable NRA gets its way, we become a state where people can walk around openly packing in public, at a Starbucks, the movies, the neighborhood park.

Formidable NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, an expert in getting politicians to roll over and expose their soft pink underbellies, says we need this open carry law to protect concealed weapon permit holders from, if you can believe it, undue harassment by cops.

A previous push for this law ended in compromise, an agreement that a brief display of a weapon, inadvertent and not intended as a threat, would not be illegal.

But to hear some tell it, we have upon us a scourge of legal gun owners targeted by police for no more than accidentally exposing guns when, say, their pockets have holes in them or their shirts ride up or the wind shifts. Apparently, we are one breezy state.

This sounds like a more likely scenario: In a confrontation, one person says the other exposed his gun in a show of force. The gun owner says it was an accident. Police make the call. It's something we expect them to do every day.

The argument against open carry is not about infringing on the rights of responsible gun owners to arm and protect themselves. In fact, plenty who respect guns but also understand the damage they can do in the wrong hands oppose open carry, as do police and prosecutors who see this daily.

Why? Here are a few reasons: Police called to investigate a "man with a gun" in a mall or a Publix parking lot must instantly sort out good guys from bad.

Police are trained to carry guns, and many have holsters that keep someone from easily grabbing theirs. Imagine the possibilities with guns on the hips of ordinary citizens.

And that argument you hear that gun control measures are so only police get to swagger around feeling powerful? No. This is about a gun lobby that believes no pro-gun law is too absurd.

The best result of a law against carrying in the open would be preventing a situation from escalating to the point where somebody gets shot. Because the presence of a gun can change everything.

Trevor Dooley, the man awaiting trial in that terrible, preventable tragedy in a Valrico park, recently failed to get his charges dismissed in the shooting of 41-year-old David James. Among other rulings, the judge found Dooley, who says he was defending himself, was in violation of the law at the time — the one that says you can't openly carry your gun.

This is the kind of law you hope could keep someone from bringing a gun to an argument where it doesn't belong, and the kind of common sense legislation the NRA is determined to take away.

The NRA's push for guns that changes everything 08/10/12 [Last modified: Friday, August 10, 2012 10:11pm]

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