Florida takes dangerous turn with permitless carry

The following Bloomberg Opinion was published in The  Daily Sun on Feb 20, 2023.

After winning reelection in November with nearly 60% of the vote, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had political capital to spend on any number of priorities. Sadly, he’s settled on one of the most the ill-considered choices available: allowing the public to carry concealed firearms without a license.

The policy is as bad as it sounds. It removes any requirement for a gun owner to obtain a license or take a training course to carry a concealed weapon in public (a license is still required to carry a firearm visibly). The bill is now advancing through the legislature, and given its Republican supermajority and the governor’s backing, it’s likely to become law. Florida would thus become the 26th state to legalize “permitless carry” (or “constitutional carry,” as fundamentalists call it).

It’s a disappointing turn just five years after the nation’s worst high-school mass shooting took place in Florida in 2018, when a 19-year-old armed with an AR-15style semi-automatic rifle opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, killing 14 students and three staff members, and wounding 17 others.

While a tragically familiar story, what followed was more unusual. Despite having a Republican governor and Legislature, the state moved promptly to strengthen its gun laws: Less than a month after the shooting, Florida had raised the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21, imposed a three-day waiting period on the purchase of long guns, outlawed bump stocks (devices that allow a semiautomatic weapon to fire more rapidly), and authorized a red-flag law to allow authorities to temporarily confiscate the firearms of those demonstrating an intent to harm themselves or others.

Now, five years later, Florida is heading in the opposite direction — and for no good reason. Even with the post-Parkland measures, the state was hardly restrictive on guns: It was one of the first to pass a stand-your-ground law (which allows for using deadly force in self-defense even when there is no lethal threat), has no universal background-check requirement, and already allows licensed owners to carry concealed firearms in public (a policy that itself leads to increased firearm homicides).

A permitless carry law will likely make things worse. One analysis found that gun homicides increased by 22% on average in the three years after states passed such a measure. A separate study found that permitless carry led to a 13% increase in shootings by police — perhaps explaining why law-enforcement organizations have been some of the most vocal opponents of permitless carry where it is proposed.

Previous attempts to codify this policy in Florida have stalled in legislative committees. There was little to compel DeSantis to endorse the idea — except, perhaps, for politics. Not unlike his crackdown on ESG investing, his fight with Walt Disney Co. and his vocal opposition to critical race theory, much of the governor’s agenda of late seems designed to check boxes likely to appeal to a national conservative audience.

Alas, unlike those other policy choices, this one could well come with fatal consequences.


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