1. Opinion

Column: Florida should not loosen gun laws

As Florida experiences another mass shooting — this time at Fort Lauderdale's airport — state legislators have introduced bills that would allow concealed weapon license-holders to carry handguns, both openly and concealed, into colleges and universities, public schools, local government meetings, airport terminals and legislative chambers. Supporters of these bills explain that these expansions of gun rights will be limited to individuals trained and licensed to carry firearms, and that the measures will enhance public safety.

We should not be reassured.

The evidence is growing that expanding the right to carry will compromise rather than enhance public safety. Stanford University researchers have found that right-to-carry laws "are associated with substantially higher rates of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder." An FBI study of active shooter incidents found that just 1 of 160 incidents was stopped by an armed civilian. In addition to research, recent experience tells us that right-to-carry laws can be perilous. Last summer, when five law enforcement officers were shot and killed in Dallas, police Chief David Brown said that policing where open carry is legal is "difficult at best." When multiple people are walking the streets exhibiting their guns during an active shooting, confusion as to who the perpetrator is may impede the response of officers and may endanger them and the armed civilians who happen to be in the area.

Still, the gun lobby continues to promote its agenda of permitting guns on campuses and at government meetings, disregarding the risks of verbal conflicts escalating into lethal ones. The risks don't end there: Guns on campus may increase the number of suicides, injuries due to accidental discharges and the theft of firearms.

The gun lobby argues that the training received by Florida licensees justifies the expansion of concealed and open carry into places like airports. In reality, the training required of authorized permit holders in Florida is seriously inadequate.

Let's examine what the National Rifle Association refers to as training. Permit holders in Florida typically take a onetime three-hour course with no written test regarding the state's gun laws and the appropriate use of lethal force. There are no performance-based tests of marksmanship or the handling of firearms. There is no training as to judgment in making critical shoot/don't shoot decisions.

Joseph Vince, formerly an ATF agent and an international firearms and law enforcement expert, has written extensively on weapons training and self-defense. Vince argues that permitting standards are grossly inadequate. He recommends that license holders be required to undergo recertification every six months, with training that would involve decisionmaking during real-life scenarios, shooting accuracy in stressful situations and firing range practice. Florida requires none of these elements to qualify for a permit to carry a gun. As for renewal of a license, it can be done online. The training recommended by experts is critical as even police officers, who receive comprehensive, ongoing training can display errors in judgment and miss the mark 80 percent of the time in combat situations.

Contributing to the inadequacy of training is the fact that various businesses, rather than police, administer the courses, creating a lack of uniformity and conflicts of interest. Gun stores offering these courses are incentivized to pass everyone seeking a permit in order to sell their products and services. One would think the permitting process would be managed by a law enforcement authority, not by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, as is the case in Florida.

Floridians should be concerned about the vetting and training of the 1.7 million concealed weapons permitholders in the state. The notion that the current licensing method prepares them to protect our campuses and airports is unreasonable and dangerous.

Thomas Gabor is a criminologist based in Palm Beach County and is the author of "Confronting Gun Violence in America." Patricia Brigham is the co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.