1. Opinion

Column: Concealed-carry reciprocity would be bad for Florida

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 is moving through Congress on a path to threaten public safety, damage responsible gun ownership and undermine law enforcement.

The legislation proposes that any person who has a permit to carry a concealed firearm in his home state can unconditionally carry that same hidden, loaded gun in Florida and everywhere else in America. While requiring unregulated reciprocity across the country, the bill lacks any national standards regarding criminal background checks, gun safety training, live-fire training or a violent offender's ability to carry a concealed weapon.

Each state legislature currently establishes the steps its citizens must take to carry a concealed gun. In Florida, these requirements include but are not limited to being 21 years or older, demonstrating competency with a firearm, not having a conviction for domestic violence, not being under arrest for a violent crime and the desire to carry a concealed weapon for self-defense.

Florida has taken steps to encourage responsible gun ownership. Not all states have. This legislation would subjugate Florida law to the least restrictive laws in our country and effectively remove all sensible, statewide gun safety regulations. Simply put, if this bill becomes law, a domestic abuser permitted to carry a loaded, hidden weapon in another state could come to Florida and jeopardize public safety. Depending on his state of residence, a permit holder with a criminal background could bring a concealed, loaded gun with a high-capacity magazine into a Hillsborough County public playground.

The legislation makes law enforcement's job more difficult and more dangerous. Common sense dictates that more concealed weapons creates uncertainty and risk for law enforcement, from routine traffic stops to active shooter situations. Additionally, the bill essentially requires officers to become experts on the gun laws of all 50 states in order to determine whether someone is lawfully carrying a concealed weapon.

Because the legislation does not include a centralized database for concealed permit-holders, there is no simple way for law enforcement to verify out-of-state permits. This leaves our law enforcement officers to guess who is acting lawfully and who is not. That is an untenable position.

Even more insulting, the bill subjects law enforcement officers to personal liability for mistakenly enforcing concealed carry laws. A permit holder can sue a police officer for being wrongly arrested, stopped, or even asked to produce documentation — and also recover attorney's fees. Under these conditions, officers may be understandably reluctant to enforce gun laws for out-of-state visitors. For these reasons and others, national law enforcement groups, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents the 69 largest police and sheriffs' departments in the country, staunchly oppose concealed carry reciprocity.

This legislation tramples on our rights as Floridians. Different states have different concealed carry laws that reflect the will of their citizens. For example, 31 states require safety training, and 27 states prohibit permits for a person convicted of a misdemeanor. By contrast, 19 states do not require any gun-safety training, 15 allow domestic abusers to carry concealed guns, and 12 have no requirements whatsoever. The bill requires that the laws of permit-less states like Mississippi or Idaho trump Florida's laws.

Furthermore, it enables Floridians who are prohibited from obtaining a permit in Florida to get a permit from another state in order to circumvent Florida law. Ultimately, this legislation eliminates all regulation of concealed carry: no training, no background checks, no limitations — and no questions asked — for every community across the country.

In making the weakest link the law of the land, this bill represents an attack on the safety of our citizens and the safety of officers who risk their lives to protect us. As a prosecutor and a father, this shocks me. As a Floridian, it insults me.

Floridians may not always agree on the best gun laws, but we recognize the core democratic principle that our elected representatives make those laws — not politicians from other states with different safety concerns, demographics, and population density (and without 70 million annual tourists).

I am willing to work with our leaders in Tallahassee and Washington to create sensible gun policy that balances individual freedoms with public safety, including robust standards for concealed carry. Requiring that Florida surrender to the laws of the lowest common denominator, however, threatens both our freedom and our safety.

Andrew Warren is state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit, which covers Hillsborough County.