Florida's gun culture gone wild

Published April 4, 2012

With the world watching Florida, and not for a good reason, here's our state's take on guns, in a nutshell:

In Florida, someone can pursue someone else, start a confrontation, shoot the person dead and still go free, as long as he was afraid for himself when he pulled the trigger. This has happened more than once under our now infamous "stand your ground'' law that says you don't have to look for an option before using deadly force, a recent Times investigation revealed. And it has happened even though the very politicians who pushed this law say it shouldn't apply when the shooter pursued.

There's more. The city of Tampa can come up with rules for banning weapons including knives, metal pipes and even squirt guns from around the politically charged Republican National Convention when thousands come here for the event in August.

But when it comes to guns, state law trumps local sense. Got a permit, come on down. This is Florida, after all, land of 900,000 licensed concealed-weapons carriers, nearly twice what even Texas boasts.

In Florida, we pass laws saying a doctor can't ask a patient about guns at home without a compelling reason and adoption agencies can't question prospective parents about guns. Why would the presence of guns around children be important to know?

This happened slowly and steadily, like a house afire before you smell smoke. But the story making global news (the cover of People, even) is the kind of worst-case scenario police and prosecutors warned about. We're still awaiting critical details about what happened that night in Sanford, but we know this much: It involved an unarmed teenager, a neighborhood watch volunteer with a gun who at one point followed him, an altercation, a gunshot.

And a law that may say it's okay.

In Florida, there is no expansion of gun rights the politically powerful National Rifle Association will not push with a straight face and a play on our fears. Guns in your car at work? Guns at our waistbands? Guns for nuns and kindergarten kids is starting to sound less and less absurd. And we're not talking about the kind of laws that balance public safety with the rights of responsible citizens to own and carry firearms. We're talking gun culture gone wild.

Or, not talking, at least at the moment. Marion Hammer, the NRA's formidable lobbyist who has never been shy about saying what she thinks about gun rights, did not return calls for comment. She earlier declined a reporter's request because of "media bias and slant," though she was previously quoted as saying politicians who want to change the law now are "grandstanding."

Really? Because now seems like a good time for legislators to explain how this law — based on the case of a man who shot an intruder but wasn't charged, by the way — and others are good for Florida.

When controversial gun bills are pending, supporters scoff at the idea of Florida as a Wild West state and Chicken Littles who whine about falling sky. But now the world is watching, so we rub our chins and order reviews, as Gov. Rick Scott has on stand your ground.

Maybe they will have a look at cases in which the shooter was also the pursuer, something supporters say the law wasn't meant to cover. Maybe they could rethink the state of our state when it comes to guns.

Or maybe they'll just hunker down until this blows over for the next big outrage, and the NRA tells us what we need next gunwise. That would be Florida, in a nutshell.