Editorials

Florida Senate, reject open, campus carry gun bills

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, left, confers with gun-rights lobbyists — Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s longtime Tallahassee representative, and Florida Carry’s attorney Eric Friday — about a late-filed amendment proposed to Gaetz’s open-carry gun legislation on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau
State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, left, confers with gun-rights lobbyists — Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s longtime Tallahassee representative, and Florida Carry’s attorney Eric Friday — about a late-filed amendment proposed to Gaetz’s open-carry gun legislation on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

Once again, state Rep. Greg Steube's legislation to allow individuals with concealed-carry permits to take firearms onto the campuses of Florida's 40 public universities and colleges is on track to die in a Senate committee. The full House approved the measure a few days ago.

The House also approved an open-carry bill the same day. This, too, deserves to be bottled up in a Senate committee or shot down in a full chamber vote.

On campus carry, weapons could create a false sense of safety for some individuals, but more guns boost the possibilities for deadly accidents and other unpredictable consequences. A concealed-carry permit offers no assurance that the holder is conscientious and responsible about safety and storing a firearm, and not negligent or lacking in common sense. Drugs and alcohol use by students only increases the danger, as does immaturity.

The likelihood that gun owners are skilled in hostage and active-shooter situations is slim. Those incidents should be left to trained law enforcement officers, not college professors, students or visitors. More guns are not the solution to the violence on campuses around the country.

Some 73 percent of Florida residents oppose campus carry as do university presidents, faculty organizations, campus police chiefs and student government leaders. House lawmakers remain deaf to the opposition.

Steube's intent -- campus safety -- is admirable. Floridians just do not agree. We don't need guns on college campuses.

The Senate should derail this risky legislation, as the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee vowed in January. Rep. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami stated unequivocally that he would not schedule a hearing in his committee, thus killing the bill. That's good news.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, does not intend to circumvent committee vetting and put the bill before the full chamber. That's good news, too.

Open carry

The open-carry gun bill is more troublesome. This would allow the state's 1.4 million residents with concealed-carry permits to openly display their firearms in most public places. The sight of holsters on hips and chests would be unsettling for many individuals.

Florida's tourism industry, the state's key economic driver, would undoubtedly take a hit. A hundred million people visit the state annually. Open carry would send a signal to visitors that people aren't safe here unless openly carrying a firearm.

Open carry would also endanger police and bystanders by creating confusion for officers descending on chaotic incidents and forced to decide in a split second who's the good guy and the bad guy.

As is the case with campus carry, the good guy is unlikely to have the training required of law enforcement officers, and bystanders would be exposed to errant bullets fired by a civilian.

Many law enforcement agencies do not support open carry based on public safety grounds. Many of those objections center on the lack of a requirement for increased public training on holstering and handling of open-carry weapons.

Plus, the bill forbids officers from asking an individual to produce a concealed-weapons permit when openly carrying a firearm. That provision handcuffs authorities from making sensible requests to help ensure public safety and only enables criminals without a concealed-carry permit to roam around openly brandishing a gun.

With open carry, law enforcement officers would be compelled to take extensive tactical training in how to react in dangerous situations.

And there's the question of whether this will increase gun confrontations in road rage incidents, heated arguments and other circumstances. Then would the shooter invoke Florida's Stand Your Ground law?

There's no public outcry for open carry, but the National Rifle Association is pushing this bill hard. Senators should follow the people's will, not a special interest with deep pockets and campaign contributions.

Society seems to have devolved into a country where the open display of firearms is believed to be a major deterrent to crime. Forty-five states now allow open carry.

All the negatives about open carry outweigh any perceived benefits. This bill deserves to die.

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