A St. Lucie County, Florida man criminally charged with possession of an openly carried firearm is praying that a district court will determine that open carry is a constitutionally-protected right.
“I took the case because I was sick and tired of seeing lawful gun owners harassed by police and prosecutors for what I believe to be a constitutional right,” said Eric J. Friday, lead counsel for Florida Carry, Inc., the state’s largest independent gun rights organization with more than 12,000 members.
“If the court rules in our favor Florida will become one of those states with the constitutional right to open carry firearms,” he said.
Florida Carry, on behalf of defendant Dale Lee Norman, who in 2011 was charged with possession of an openly carried firearm, filed an appeal to the Fourth District Court of Appeals after a local court certified this case as involving questions of great public importance.
It would be the first ruling in Florida’s history dealing with open carry and specifically the constitutionality of Florida’s open carry ban.
The ban was strong-armed into law in 1987 at the insistence of then-state attorney Janet Reno in a special session of the state legislature without the benefit of committee hearings, debate or discussion, said Friday.
Florida Carry attempted to repeal the ban in 2011, but at the last minute rather than repeal it, the state legislature decided to make exceptions for accidental exposures of firearms, he said.
“Every single incident since that passed of accidental exposure of firearms, with Norman’s case being one of them, the state attorneys are committed to prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.
Anti-gun prosecutors do not want the Norman case to move forward, he said. “They are using every procedural maneuver possible to try and block this case from being heard by an appellate court.”
Florida Carry Executive Director Sean Caranna said the prosecutor is attempting to have the case heard by one local judge who has less jurisdiction and less effect, instead of a three-judge court of appeals panel with statewide effect.
“The state is trying to get a second bite at the apple to the lowest level it possibly can,” he said. “Even if the lower court made a minor technical error in the order of the certified questions that error should not be applied to the criminal defendant.”
On the day Norman received his concealed carry license that there was an accidental exposure of his gun, he said. “His only crime is he did a poor job of concealing his firearm.”
Norman had never been charged with a crime before and was not charged with any other crime in this incident, he added. “To prosecute him in this situation is an abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”
Caranna, who in 2012 was the recipient of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Defender of Liberty Award, said Floridians would be better served if the state would prosecute more criminals and less law abiding citizens. “We hope that the attorney general and the state attorney will get the message that we need to be prosecuting actual criminals rather than law abiding gun owners who never had a scraping with the law.”
Prosecutions for accidental exposure of firearms have been on the rise, he said. “We have seen more prosecutions over the past four years than the previous ten years.”
Everett “Dirksen” Wilkinson, who is the chairman of Florida Tea Party, said the group issued an email alert to 10,000 Floridians last week requesting they contact state Attorney General Pamela J. “Pam” Bondi to inform her that her assistant AGs and local prosecutors are out of control in fighting against the Second Amendment. “The attorney general needs to get her anti-gun and anti-self-defense underlings in line if she wants the support of gun owners in the coming election.”
Prosecutorial decisions will have political consequences, said Caranna.
“The state of Florida has more concealed carry holders than any other state. When you add that impact to the huge number of gun owners, not just the CC license holders, half of the state are gun owners.”
Friday, who concentrates his practice on criminal defense with an emphasis on Second Amendment issues, said legal open carry of firearms is the only way to exercise our Second Amendment rights because concealed carry has been determined to be a privilege.
“Every case that has ever discussed the right to carry has been very clear that the carrying of a concealed firearm is a privilege not a right. So if there is, in fact, a right to carry and several courts have said there is a right to carry, then there is only one method of exercising the constitutionally protected right to carry – and that is open carry.”
Historically a person carrying a concealed firearm was considered a person taking an unfair advantage or a scoundrel, he said. “Criminals carried their weapons concealed, honest people made it obvious they were armed.”