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Carlton: The answer can't be more guns

Published Jul. 13, 2016

At the library, outside a restaurant down the street, at your local courthouse, the American flag drifts downward at half-staff. Again.

Deranged men with too easy access to too many guns have killed children in an elementary school, people in church, patrons at a movie theater. Did we even get the chance to raise the flag after last month's massacre at an Orlando nightclub before new violence left five police officers dead in Dallas last week?

None of which is expected to stop some Florida politicians from saying — with perfectly straight faces — that what our state needs is more guns, or at least more visible ones.

Despite shooting after shooting, despite sensible proponents of the Second Amendment willing to talk reasonable restrictions that would not impinge on legal gun owners, do not expect much relenting on the push in recent years to make ours an open-carry state. Expect elected officials to continue to kowtow to the powerful bully that is the gun lobby, and its push to allow people to carry their handguns out in the open — to the bank, to the coffee shop, on the sidewalks.

For perspective, there is Texas, site of the latest deadly shooting.

According to authorities there, 20 to 30 protesters legally toted AR-15s and other military-style rifles slung over their shoulders (it is Texas, after all) at a protest before the sniper took aim. Given the chaos, and marchers with guns mistaken for suspects, it's a miracle that more weren't killed.

In an interview this week, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings suggested tightening Texas law on rifles and shotguns in public. "There should be some way to say I shouldn't be bringing my shotgun to a Mavericks game or to a protest because something crazy should happen," he said.

Amazing, he said, to think that in a gunfight you are supposed to sort out an armed good guy from an armed bad one. "I just want to come back to common sense," he said.

There's a thought.

"Boy, it resonated with me," says Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who has made the very same argument about the potential for confusion over who's holding a handgun in a tense situation if Florida passed open-carry. He opposes it — as have others in law enforcement — believing guns out in the open could expose people to more danger.

"It's insane to think there is some positive benefit to open-carry," echoes Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has had some there-but-for-the-grace-of-God moments for his city lately.

Open-carry proponents argue that such a law could actually help stop crime, an improbable scenario that imagines a citizenry made up exclusively of Bruce Willis clones. According to a study last year by the Violence Policy Center that used FBI and other federal data, gun owners are far more likely to hurt themselves or someone else than stop a criminal.

And a point from Gualtieri: Even without open-carry, citizens with concealed-carry permits still have their guns for self-defense.

Of course, there's a bigger question here. How do we stop this madness, the latest being the slayings of the police officers in Dallas and the controversial shootings by police that preceded them?

"Honest to God, I don't know what the answer is," former Tampa police Chief Jane Castor told me last week. "But we've got to come together and find a solution before this gets any worse. And I'm not sure how it could get any worse, and I don't want to find out."

I don't know either, but the answer can't possibly be more guns.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

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