Guest Column
Florida lawmakers need to answer important questions about permitless gun carry | Column
“Most of our elected officials seem satisfied to say little and dance around the facts,” says guest columnist Robert Mazur, a retired law enforcement agent.
Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow the concealed carrying of a gun without a permit. []
Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow the concealed carrying of a gun without a permit. []
Published March 2

Florida legislators are poised to pass a bill this month that will seriously impact your public safety. The passage of HB 543 will allow residents and out-of-state vacationers to legally carry concealed firearms without a permit, background check or any gun safety training. They will be able to do so even if they have multiple violent misdemeanor convictions. They will also be able to legally flash that gun at you if, in their infinite wisdom, they perceive doing so ensures their self-defense.

Robert Mazur stands in front of the private jet he used during the operation when he worked undercover inside the Medellin Cartel.
Robert Mazur stands in front of the private jet he used during the operation when he worked undercover inside the Medellin Cartel. [ Courtesy of Robert Mazur ]

A few vocal state representatives backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis have bullied this bill along. Most of our elected officials seem satisfied to say little and dance around the facts. You can make a difference by getting them to answer some specific questions. Confronted with these questions, hopefully they’ll understand the bill’s flaws and open their minds to a much better way to ensure every citizen’s right to safely bear arms, pursuant to the Second Amendment. It should also help them to understand that since this bill will seriously impact the safety of everyone in the state, Florida residents should get to vote on the issue as a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution.

To ensure your voice is heard, send a registered letter to your state representative, state senator and sheriff asking them to publicly respond to the questions I outline below. Time is of the essence.

Universal background checks.

Many individuals obtain firearms from sources other than registered dealers. They may buy from individuals, receive them as gifts or inherit them. In those cases, the gun owner does not undergo a background check. HB 543 doesn’t require a permitless concealed firearm carrier to undergo a background check, either. Therefore, a considerable number of permitless concealed firearm carriers will have never undergone a background check before they start carrying a lethal weapon on our streets. Do you, an elected official, support this?

Have you read the study conducted by Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, and his colleagues, that is titled “The impact of state firearm laws on homicide and suicide deaths in the U.S.A?” This extensive study analyzed reliable statewide data in 50 states over a 26-year period and found among other things that universal background checks were associated with a 14.9% reduction in overall homicide rates. This finding was consistent with at least five other similar studies.

Do you dispute Siegel’s finding about the public safety benefits of universal background checks, and if so, on what basis do you dispute that finding? Now that you know of this finding in Siegel’s and other reliable studies, do you support amending HB 543 to require a credible background check?

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Training: Safe handling, use and storage of firearms

The elected officials and law enforcement officers supporting this bill have said they realize it is important for those who carry firearms to be trained in safely handling, using and storing firearms. But many of them also criticize the prior mandated firearm education and training for permitted concealed firearm carriers as inadequate and meaningless. This has been their rationale for HB 543 not requiring firearm education and training. As an elected official, do you agree with that?

If you agree, when did you first know that firearm training for permitted concealed weapons holders was meaningless? Didn’t you think meaningless training created a public safety threat? Why didn’t you do something about that meaningless training when you first learned about it?

Would you support HB 543 requiring a uniform standard for gun education, use and storage? If not, why wouldn’t you support this?

Guns in the hands of violent criminals

Are you aware that HB 543 will allow people convicted of one or more first-degree violent misdemeanors to carry a concealed firearm? That means individuals convicted multiple times for domestic violence, simple assault, simple battery and stalking would be ordained by the state of Florida to responsibly carry a concealed firearm without a permit. Do you also realize a person convicted of domestic violence could even legally flash that concealed weapon at their prior victim if they perceive they need to do so in self-defense? Is this something that you feel is appropriate?

Do you know that Siegel’s study also found that banning anyone convicted of a violent misdemeanor from carrying a concealed weapon was associated with an 18.1% reduction in overall homicide and a 24% reduction in intimate partner homicide? Given this finding, do you believe that conviction of a first-degree violent misdemeanor should disqualify a person from permitless carry of a firearm for at least a three-year period? At the very least, would you agree to adding this provision to the bill?

Law enforcement officers’ gun deaths

Are you aware of the study conducted by Dr. David Swedler of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health titled “Firearm prevalence & homicides of law enforcement officers in the U.S.”?

Swedler determined that 90% of homicides of law enforcement officers are committed with firearms and that law enforcement officers suffer three times higher homicide rates in states with high firearm ownership compared with states with low firearm ownership. Over the study period, 716 of the 782 law enforcement homicides were committed with firearms.

Proponents of HB 543 claim the bill will put more guns in the hands of “good guys” on the streets, but it will also enable any member of a criminal organization without a felony conviction to lawfully walk our streets with concealed firearms. Given Swedler’s findings, does his study raise any concerns in your mind that putting more guns on the streets of Florida will endanger more law enforcement officers?

More guns, more violence

Have you read the study conducted by law professor John J. Donohue at Stanford Law School titled “The swerve to ‘guns everywhere’: A legal & empirical evaluation”?

Donohue’s study asserts that allowing expanded gun access outside the home has increased violent crime in the states where laws have been passed to increase gun access. The study analyzed data from 1977 through 2014. It demonstrated a 42.3% drop in violent crime in nine states that never adopted “right to carry” firearms laws.

Are you aware that Donohue’s study confirmed that right-to-carry laws are associated with a roughly 9% higher rate of violent crime? Are you aware that Donohue’s study confirmed that states with right-to-carry laws during the period of 1980 through 2016 had an 18% increase in robberies committed with firearms?

Do the results of Donohue’s extensive study give you any anxiety about supporting HB 543?

Good Samaritans saving lives

Local law enforcement officials have touted stories of someone with a permitted concealed weapon saving lives. Are you aware that there are an extensive number of stories of “good Samaritans” causing horrific death and harmful events?

Donohue authored the study “Right-to-carry laws & violent crime — a comprehensive assessment using panel data and a state level synthetic control analysis.” The study found that “right-to-carry” laws have led to 13% to 15% higher aggregate violent crime rates 10 years after adoption. The study also offered specific details about some real-life events that led to needless deaths. These events involved concealed carry permit holders that passed background checks, whereas HB 543 will allow people to carry a concealed weapon without permit, background check or firearm training. A few examples of good Samaritan tragedies:

· When police arrived at an Alabama mall, they saw a 21-year-old concealed carry permit holder with a gun drawn. Thinking he was the shooter, they mistakenly killed him. In fact, the man had been assisting and protecting shoppers. The real shooter escaped.

· A concealed carry permit holder tried to break up a fight in Portland, Oregon. The police saw the gun held by the permit holder — a Navy veteran and father of three kids. In the confusion, the police shot and killed the good Samaritan.

· In Tennessee, as churchgoers were reflecting on a Texas church massacre, a member of the congregation with a weapons permit mentioned he always carries his gun. Bragging that he would stop any mass shooter, the churchgoer proudly pulled out his handgun and inadvertently shot himself in the palm, causing panic in the church as the bullet ripped through his wife’s abdomen and into her forearm.

Examples like these are not hard to find from around the country. Given these examples and the findings in Donohue’s study, do you have any concerns about the merits of enabling anyone that wants to carry a concealed firearm in Florida to do so without a permit, background check or any training whatsoever?

An armed population decreases crime?

The U.S. Concealed Carry Association touts a study titled “Shall issue: The new wave of concealed handgun permit laws” by Clayton E. Cramer and David B. Kopel. The most recent data in this study was generated 35 years ago. It addressed only incidents involving individuals who acquired permits to carry concealed firearms, not permitless carry events that will evolve from HB 543.

A more recent document referenced by advocates of some form of permitless or “constitutional” carry laws is a document prepared by attorney Konstadinos Moros titled, “CDC data shows constitutional carry states have fewer total and gun-related homicides.”

Moros represents the California Rifle & Pistol Association. In his writings, Moros asserted that statistics he gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrated that the average overall homicide rate among the 16 “constitutional carry” states in 2020 had a gun-related homicide rate that was six-tenths of 1% less than the national average.

Rather than compare the impacts in a given state before and after a permitless carry law passed, Moros compared statistics to a national average. Because gun advocates tout Moros’ findings, I interviewed him on Feb. 7. During that interview, Moros stated:

· I’m an attorney, not a statistician. I wrote an article about my interpretation of some of the data. It is not a study.

· I’m sure other people that reviewed the data did a better job.

· I saw a correlation between gun ownership and suicides (more guns, more suicides).

· To do a competent study (about permitless carry laws), you’d probably have to give things another 10 years, so there is sufficient reliable data.

Moros’ statements undermine the reliability of the assertions made in his article. But even taking the findings as face value, it’s easy to see that he gave no weight to the fact that three of the “constitutional carry” states — the rural states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont — have always had dramatically low homicide rates. Their overall homicide rates have consistently been two to five times lower than the national average.

Scientific studies, including Siegel’s “The impact of state firearm laws on homicide rates in suburban and rural areas compared to large cities in the United States,” demonstrate that the impact of firearm carrying in rural areas is far different than in dense urban areas, like many of those in Florida that experience high crime. Moros did nothing to factor this or any other variables into his analysis.

Moros’ own article reveals that the gun-related homicide rate in six of the 16 “constitutional carry” states in 2020 were considerably higher than the national average. Mississippi’s gun-related homicides in 2020 were more than three times higher than the national average. In that same year, Missouri and Arkansas both had gun-related homicide rates that were more than twice the national average, and both Kentucky and Oklahoma suffered gun-related homicide rates that were one and a half times higher than the national average.

That leads to another question: Given that some states with permitless or constitutional carry laws have more than twice as many firearm-related homicides than the national average, do you as an elected official believe that changes should be made to HB 543? If so, what changes would you recommend?

Let voters decide

Finally, given the clear divergence of opinions about HB 543 in the Legislature and among Florida residents, would you support allowing Floridians to have a direct say on the matter of permitless carry by letting them vote on whether to add the right to the Florida Constitution? If not, why are you opposed to letting Florida voters decide whether permitless carry is a good idea or not?

Robert Mazur, a federal agent for 27 years, is a court-certified expert in money laundering related matters in both the U.S. and Canada. He is The New York Times best-selling author of “The Infiltrator,” a memoir about the first half of his life undercover as a money launderer within Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel, and was an executive producer of the film by the same name. His new book, “The Betrayal,” is a memoir about his final undercover assignment, a deep dive into Colombia’s Cali Cartel and Panama’s underworld that nearly cost him his life. He is president of KYC Solutions, a company that provides speaking, training, consulting and expert witness services globally.