Five years after Florida's Legislature voted to cloak the names of people holding concealed weapons permits, the number of permits issued has more than doubled. But the most disturbing thing? Floridians have no right to know if their neighbors, estranged spouses or co-workers could be packing. Nor do they have any way to ensure that government bureaucrats are actually denying permits to people who shouldn't have them. So much for public safety or good government.
That's the disturbing lesson from a New York Times article Tuesday that examined North Carolina's concealed weapons database. It is one of the few the National Rifle Association hasn't succeeded in hiding from public view as it has forced a nationwide tide of laxer gun-toting legislation. The newspaper found, by examining five years of North Carolina's permitting and cross-checking it with criminal databases, that 10 felons who had committed murder or manslaughter had concealed weapons permits. Another 200 permits belonged to individuals convicted of gun- or weapon-related felonies or misdemeanors, including roughly 60 who committed weapon-related assaults. And another 900 had drunken driving convictions.
Embarrassing for North Carolina? Yes. But at least its citizens can verify for themselves whether government is doing its job. Floridians aren't so lucky. Thanks to the 2006 Republican-led Legislature, citizens have no way to ascertain if the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is rightly denying or revoking permits of people who should not have them under state law. That inability to hold government to account comes as the state actually grants more people than ever the right to conceal weapons.
As of Nov. 30, Florida had issued 878,174 concealed weapons permits, enough to legally allow six out of every 100 adult Floridians to secretly pack a gun. Two years ago, that ratio was just four out of every 100. And in 2005 — the year before the permit database was cloaked — the number of permits was just 347,350.
This state policy continues to put the privilege to carry a weapon secretly above the commonsense public safety of everyone else — and the democratic principle that citizens can hold their government to account. That is unacceptable and needs to be changed.