Ruth: Lawmakers support police except when it comes to guns

Published November 6 2015
Updated November 6 2015

It certainly goes without saying that the members of the Florida Legislature love and adore law enforcement. The legislators are the cat's pajamas when it comes to respecting those who put their lives on the line every day to keep all of us safe — unless, of course, the badges get sideways with Tallahassee by suggesting law and order should take precedence over hysteria.

Once again the effort to legalize the open carry of firearms, as well as a measure to permit concealed carry of weapons on the state's university campuses, is being taken up by state legislators.

To be sure, powerful, deep-pocketed special interest groups like the National Rifle Association support the loosening of gun restrictions across the state. That's to be expected. It's what the NRA does — and they advance their causes rather well. That is why these measures stand a good chance of passage.

And that's a shame, since Tallahassee's preoccupation with making it easier for people to shoot each other flies in the face of a vast majority of professional law enforcement officials who have vociferously opposed the open carry and campus gun bills.

Both Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri have opposed the measures, and no one has ever accused them of being flower-power liberals.

And yet the bills advance largely based on a hoax.

The predicate is that the populace needs to be openly armed to the gills because of the widespread urban myth there is a fiend lurking behind every shrub waiting to pounce on an unarmed resident.

Yet a study conducted by the Violence Policy Center that analyzed FBI data revealed in 2012 that nationwide there were only 259 justifiable homicides by a private citizen using a firearm. There was hardly a rash of criminal activity afoot in the streets to warrant allowing folks to swagger hither and yon openly locked and loaded. Pssssst! That's what the police are supposed to do.

Groups like the Fraternal Order of Police and most members of the Florida Sheriffs Association have consistently opposed open carry, noting it makes an officer's job more difficult to sort out the good guys from the bad guys in the midst of a chaotic crime scene if everybody is openly packing heat. Isn't this — elementary?

Across the state's university system, police agencies, school presidents and faculty groups all have pleaded with Tallahassee not to make it easier to bring weapons on campus.

One one hand you have the police, experts in the use of firearms, school officials and professional educators charged with ensuring students can live and learn in a safe environment — all imploring the Florida Legislature not to expand the presence of guns on the streets and the campuses. They are ignored.

And then there is the NRA.

Who wins? You have to ask?

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the sponsor of the open carry bill, has said he is open to feedback from law enforcement. How much more feedback does he need? Repeatedly the law enforcement community clearly has said no, no, a thousand times no, please do not pass the open carry and guns on campus measures because that will pose a threat to public safety. Too subtle? It's not as if the state's law enforcement brotherhood has been expressing itself in Pashto.

Just what part of "This is a really stupid idea!" does Gaetz not quite grasp?

Sigh. For Gaetz's sake, let's try this.

We can agree the Second Amendment certainly does allow for gun ownership. Fine. But simply as a matter of common sense, do we really need to be surrounded by guns at every turn?

Do we really need to put up with standing next to a rootin'-tootin' Rambo when all we're trying to do is pick out eggplant at Publix?

Do we really need to be exposed to some yahoo packing a gat when all we're trying to do is order an Egg McMuffin?

And do we have to fret the guy in front you in traffic might have visions of Quentin Tarantino warmly nestled on his hip?

Open carry doesn't make the public safer. It makes the citizenry more — to put it gently — spontaneous.

You can't honor law enforcement one moment and then treat their opinions as if they were coming from Barney Fife the next. But then again, this is the Florida Legislature, which has taken being selectively respectful to an art form.