The National Rifle Association knows no limits. It persuaded the Florida Legislature to allow gun owners to take their weapons to work. It passed another law to stop doctors from asking patients about their guns, which is tied up in court. Now the NRA wants lawmakers to allow nearly 1 million owners of concealed weapon permits to openly carry their guns on the street. Florida already is awash in guns and high-profile shootings, and embellishing the state's Wild West reputation is no way to attract business and tourists.
For nearly 120 years, Florida generally has banned the open carry of guns (an exception exists for hunting, fishing and camping). The Florida Sheriffs Association and other law enforcement groups have long warned that the open display of guns escalates social tension and the potential for violence. And the more visible weapons become, the more likely it is more individuals — who may not have adequate training or a level head — will also pack heat.
The NRA and its supporters contend more guns carried by law-abiding citizens are a deterrent to crime. But such vigilante notions are the antithesis of a democracy governed by laws, where trained police enforce the law and courts mete out the punishment, not civilians. The courts have long allowed for some restrictions on guns, and for every anecdote in which a civilian fired a gun in self-defense there are anecdotes of innocent bystanders or gun owners being wounded or killed.
Yet even levelheaded legislators can succumb to the NRA, considered one of the most unforgiving special interests in the state. Even former Pinellas Sheriff Everett Rice now foolishly refuses to embrace the ban on openly carrying guns as he tries to win back his old job. In Tuesday's Republican primary, Rice faces incumbent Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who sensibly supports the open carry ban and refuses to cave to the NRA's demands.
The NRA's Marion Hammer says she will try again in 2013 to pass legislation allowing concealed weapons permit holders to openly carry their weapons. She contends permit holders often are harassed by law enforcement if they accidently reveal their weapons, but there is no credible evidence of such a trend.
Florida has enough bad law pushed by the NRA. The shooting death of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman has revealed how the 2005 "stand your ground" law was so badly written. Another law preventing gun control by local governments means guns will be banned in areas around the Republican National Convention controlled by the U.S. Secret Service — but not in other areas where local officials are bracing for potentially violent protesters.
For once, the Legislature stood up to the NRA in 2011 and refused to repeal the ban on openly carrying guns. It should stand firm again in 2013.