Thursday, November 23, 2017
Human Interest

Hey, Florida, show us your guns!

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Over the years, a lot of people have suggested that Florida's shape resembles various objects: a frying pan, a chin, a uvula (look it up.) A handgun has become the most common comparison, which is apt because we have so many guns that some people call us "The Gunshine State."

I own a gun. It's a 20-gauge Remington shotgun. I carried it when I went hunting with my dad when I was growing up in the Florida Panhandle. I wanted to mention that so you don't get the idea that I'm some kind of effete antigun nut who's never held a weapon, much less fired one.

Sometimes I think Florida's official mascot should be Han Solo, because it seems like our solution to every problem is to shoot at it. Pythons overrunning the Everglades? Shoot 'em! Bears invading suburbia? Shoot 'em! I'm surprised nobody's responded to the Zika crisis by suggesting a mosquito hunt.

It's hard to say how many guns are in the Gunshine State. We do know that Florida holds the record for most concealed weapons permits.

We know this because the Florida agency that keeps track of that was so happy about hitting 1 million permits in 2012 that it sent out a press release. We reached 1.5 million this year, thanks in part to the Legislature making the permit's cost cheaper.

The agency in charge of those permits, by the way, is not the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It's the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which you might think would be too busy with citrus greening and credit card skimmers to bother with who's got a Glock in their pocket.

We don't really know how good a job the office of Agriculture Commissioner (and potential gubernatorial candidate) Adam Putnam is doing at tracking these permits, because they're concealed. We do know that in the aftermath of the Pulse massacre, Putnam's office announced it would investigate how the gunman got a permit.

That was a good move, given that the gunman had been telling the other security guards where he worked that he was connected to al-Qaida and Hezbollah, and he wanted to die as a martyr. It turned out he was legally A-OK on the permit front, so that's a relief, right?

Why do so many people in Florida want to carry concealed weapons? My theory is it's because they've heard that so many other people carry them. It's a combination of fear and peer pressure — call it "fear pressure." You get into a tiff with your neighbor over hedge trimming, you don't want to be the one who brought nothing but clippers to a gunfight.

This is a big turnaround from the way things were before we became a state. According to a fascinating book called A Rogue's Paradise by Florida Southern history professor James M. Denham, back in the 1820s and 1830s, concealed weapons were seriously frowned upon by judges.

A man who carried a concealed weapon and killed someone was not eligible for a manslaughter charge, they said. The act of toting a hidden weapon showed premeditation, "a settled rancorous malice," one judge said.

The big problem now with so many Floridians toting secret Sig Sauers is that they forget they're carrying a weapon. They try to take it into Disney World or onto a plane and then — oops!

That's one reason the number of accidental shootings in Florida is double the national average. Someone toting a concealed weapon goes bowling or checks into a hotel, the gun falls out and BANG! That hotel misfire last year at the Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key ricocheted around and wounded five people.

I like the way the judges were thinking back in territorial days. So I have a suggestion to our Legislature: We should ban concealed weapons. The Second Amendment says you can have a gun. It doesn't say you're allowed to hide it.

Instead, we should require anyone who has a gun to carry it out in the open. It's got to be where everyone can see it. If you put it in your pocket or your purse, then you'd be required to hang a sign around your neck saying, "I AM PACKING HEAT."

That way all of us will know who's got a gun — so we can avoid them.

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

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