1. Opinion

Ruth: Open carry bills are bad for tourism

Published Jan. 27, 2016

Oh, to be a member of the Florida House for just one session. What fun.

In reaction to Tallahassee's tireless efforts to turn the state into an armed camp rivaling the baptism scene in The Godfather, I would offer an alternative piece of legislation. Instead of allowing people with concealed weapons permits to openly prance about with their little friends in full view, I would offer a far better idea.

Free Viagra for all. Problem solved.

For decades, Florida has survived without having its citizens publicly locked and loaded. A simple question: For a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up some Cheez Whiz and a six-pack of Olde Frothingslosh, do we really need to be packing more heat than Chuck Norris?

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Guns & Poses, thinks so. His bill would clear the way for open carry in Florida, even though it is predicated on two very dubious suppositions.

First, Gaetz has fretted that people who already possess a concealed weapons permit might find themselves being hauled off to the clink should a gust of wind momentarily cause a jacket to fly open, thus revealing one's roscoe.

This was the poppycock piffle first offered up by the National Rifle Association's Marion Hammer and, sure enough, Gaetz, R-You Talkin' to Me?, fell for the canard. In reality, says Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober, Florida already has laws that protect those gun owners from being prosecuted for an inadvertent display of a weapon.

Then there is the complete hooey that having openly armed citizens channeling their inner Travis Bickle will make us safer. "It (open carry) will enhance the liberty interests of our citizens," Gaetz, R-Feeling Lucky?, blathered. "And it will ensure that we have safe communities." Uh, isn't that supposed to be the job of … law enforcement? You know, those folks with badges who actually know what they are doing?

A few days ago, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Tampa police Chief Eric Ward and the League of Women Voters' Patricia Brigham joined to oppose the open carry stupidity.

Buckhorn called the gun bills "a solution in search of a problem." He's absolutely right.

To be sure, if Florida was awash in random gun violence, if the state was akin to Raqqa, Syria, which has descended into anarchy with militants and ISIS terrorists blasting away at each other, one could make an argument for an openly armed citizenry. But heavily weaponized evildoers are not hiding behind every shrub waiting to pounce. And like so much of today's political rhetoric, Gaetz, R-High Noon, is merely attempting to exploit and pander to irrational fears.

Ward, along with many other law enforcement officers, has talked of police coming upon a dangerous and chaotic crime scene and being hard pressed to determine who the bad guys are if everyone is openly displaying weapons. Do Gaetz and Hammer want to contribute more names to the Tampa Police Department Memorial honoring fallen officers?

While Gaetz, R-"I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning," presses forward, it would seem no one has given an iota of thought (no surprise there!) to the negative impact open carry would have on the state's tourism industry.

Visit Florida, the state's tourism agency, estimated nearly 100 million vacationers arrived in Florida in 2014, including some 11.5 million travelers from other countries. They come for fun. They come for the sun. They do not come here to be intimidated by somebody standing next to them in line at a hot dog stand with a semiautomatic rifle slung over his shoulder.

Imagine being a resident of Germany, France, Britain, Canada or a vast majority of other countries with strict gun ownership laws and arriving in Florida thinking of having a quiet holiday, only to be exposed to paranoid and armed Floridians roaming the streets. This makes for a keen marketing strategy — scaring the wits out of people who want to spend money here.