A bill allowing the open carry of firearms narrowly passed its second House committee Wednesday. It’s getting pushback from local law enforcement officials.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) is sponsoring a measure to allow Floridians with concealed carry licenses to carry their weapons openly. He says it’s a common sense measure.
“Because we have 45 states that allow for open carry,” Gaetz says, “and in the states that allow for open carry relative to the states that don’t, the murder rate is 5 percent less, the violent crime rate is 23 percent less, the robbery rate is 36 percent less and that is according to the [U.S.] Department of Justice, Bureau of Crime Statistics most recent data set collected in 2012.”
But Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says drawing a straight line from those stats to state policy on open carry is bogus.
“Proponents claim that states with open carry have less crime than those who do not,” Gualtieri says. “Florida’s at an all-time 40-year low in crime without open carry—there is no empirical data linking low crime rates in other states with open carry.”
“Crime is down all over and nobody can say it’s because of people openly carrying guns in those states,” he goes on, “It may well be for the same reason crime is down here in Florida without open carry.”
And the sheriff is disconcerted by some of the bill’s most recent changes.
Gaetz’s measure came into committee Wednesday toting three amendments—one’s a technical amendment and another allows business owners to dictate carry policy on the job. The third asserts a similar right for private property owners, but Gualtieri says it goes a bit further than that, too.
“This bill also removes all immunities, and sovereign immunity protections for law enforcement officers who allegedly infringe on someone’s rights to open carry,” Gualtieri says. “There are many ambiguities in this bill and the penalties such as monetary sanctions of $5000, law enforcement officers having to pay their own cost of defense—you can’t use public funds for it, termination or removal of office from the governor are too severe.”
He says 47 of the state’s 67 county sheriffs voted to oppose open carry, and of the remaining twenty, only ten actually support the proposal. The measure passed, but Gaetz may have been white knuckling the steering wheel on the way across the finish line. With one Republican joining the committees Democrats in opposition, the final tally was 7-6. But it’s likely smooth sailing ahead—the bill’s final stop is in the Republican dominated Judiciary Committee.