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  1. Florida Politics

PolitiFact Florida: Former NRA president Marion Hammer says 45 states allow open carry of handguns

Marion Hammer now leads the United Sportsmen of Florida.

The former president of the National Rifle Association is defending bills in the Florida Legislature proposing the open carry of handguns, saying the vast majority of states already allow the practice.

Marion Hammer, executive director of United Sportsmen of Florida, responded to criticism of Senate Bill 300 and its companion in the House, HB 163, in her Nov. 1 column that was posted on the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action website.

"Forty-five (45) states allow open carry of firearms," she wrote. "Varying restrictions on open carry in some states does not alter the fact that 45 states allow open carry."

Hammer was refuting Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is the Florida Sheriffs Association Legislative Committee chairman. Gualtieri, whose group opposes the bills, previously told the Palm Beach Post it's not really accurate to say those 45 states allow open carry because there are various rules and restrictions on the practice.

PolitiFact Florida decided to get to the bottom of just how many states let people openly carry guns in public.

The bills would allow anyone with a valid concealed-weapons permit to also openly carry their handgun, a practice prohibited by law.

Obtaining a license for concealed carry includes requirements for registration, fingerprinting and training. Florida has about 1.4 million concealed-weapon permit holders. Both bills are pending approval by committees before the 2016 legislative session.

Hammer told PolitiFact Florida that her figure came from the NRA's own research of state laws. According to that analysis, there are four other states, like Florida, that prohibit handgun open carry in public places — California, Illinois, New York and South Carolina. The District of Columbia does not allow it, either.

Hammer is equating the lack of an outright ban in other states with the other 45 states allowing the practice, but it isn't quite that cut and dried. There are different rules and restrictions in different places, and some so-called open-carry states can be very specific about what's required.

The Florida bills address the open carry of handguns, so that's the context of Hammer's column. There are other states that allow the open carry of handguns while restricting long guns, such as rifles and shotguns.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence agrees with the NRA on the same five states that prohibit open carry. But the center points out that Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey prohibit the open carry of long guns, just as Florida, California, Illinois and D.C. do. But New York and South Carolina allow open carry for long guns, while preventing it for handguns.

Further, 15 states require a permit or license to open carry, while eight more have other restrictions on how, when or where a person is allowed to do so. Some municipalities restrict open carry in ways their state doesn't. In Pennsylvania, open carry is generally allowed without a license, but Philadelphia requires a license.

There are even more caveats about specific states and where they land on the open-carry spectrum. For example, gun rights group doesn't include Texas on its list of open-carry states, because its recently passed law doesn't take effect until Jan. 1, 2016. Like Florida's proposed change, the state's concealed-carry license will become an open-carry license for handguns as well.

There are also states that could be categorized differently depending on how you interpret the local laws.

The NRA's Institute for Legislative Action noted Arkansas is hard to categorize. The state decriminalized the open or concealed carry of a loaded handgun in 2013, but the state's ban was not repealed. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a nonbinding opinion that the law was intended to protect people traveling through or across the state, even though open carry was still technically against the law. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence notes a person generally can't carry openly or concealed in Arkansas with the gun "readily available for use with a purpose to employ (it) as a weapon against a person."

All the groups we consulted agreed California is not an open-carry state because it banned open carry of loaded handguns starting in 2012, but there's still more to the story. If a person lives in a California county with less than 200,000 people, that person can ask the local sheriff or police chief for an open-carry license at his or her discretion. Of course, the license is good for only that county, but there's wiggle room in saying California prohibits open carry.

Hammer's statement that 45 states allow the open carry of firearms, period, is pretty accurate, but imprecise. The open-carry laws in those 45 states vary according to firearm and jurisdiction.

We rate her statement Mostly True.

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