Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced with great fanfare on Tuesday afternoon that she had suspended the concealed carry licenses of 22 individuals who may have taken part in the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol. Of course, that’s not exactly how Fried, the only Democrat to hold state office in Florida and an active candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in next year’s elections, framed her decision.
I just suspended the concealed weapons permits of 22 people involved in the insurrection against the United States of America instigated by Donald Trump on January 6, 2021.
— Nikki Fried (@NikkiFried) July 27, 2021
Over at National Review, Charles Cooke took a look at Florida law and came to the conclusion that Fried’s action is legal, but stupid.
Florida’s state constitution explicitly protects the right to keep and bear arms. But it also explicitly permits the state to regulate the bearing part. Here’s the relevant section:
(a) The right of the people to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves and of the lawful authority of the state shall not be infringed, except that the manner of bearing arms may be regulated by law.
And, as it turns out, the law in question, 790.06, allows the state to revoke a carry license on the mere presentation of charges (bolding mine):
(3) The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall deny a license if the applicant has been found guilty of, had adjudication of guilt withheld for, or had imposition of sentence suspended for one or more crimes of violence constituting a misdemeanor, unless 3 years have elapsed since probation or any other conditions set by the court have been fulfilled or the record has been sealed or expunged. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall revoke a license if the licensee has been found guilty of, had adjudication of guilt withheld for, or had imposition of sentence suspended for one or more crimes of violence within the preceding 3 years. The department shall, upon notification by a law enforcement agency, a court, or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and subsequent written verification, suspend a license or the processing of an application for a license if the licensee or applicant is arrested or formally charged with a crime that would disqualify such person from having a license under this section, until final disposition of the case. The department shall suspend a license or the processing of an application for a license if the licensee or applicant is issued an injunction that restrains the licensee or applicant from committing acts of domestic violence or acts of repeat violence.
So, presuming all 22 individuals who’ve had their licenses suspended by Fried have been charged with offenses that, if convicted, would cause them to lose their right to keep and bear arms, the suspension is valid under Florida law.
The problem is that we don’t know for sure that’s the case. Fried hasn’t said whether all of the individuals have been charged with crimes, merely that she’s acting within her authority by suspending their licenses.
If Fried had done this quietly, the suspensions would have likely flown under most folks’ radar. But by making a very public issue out of this, I think the Ag Commissioner is obliged to answer specific questions about these suspensions and her reasons for her action; if not legally then certainly from a political perspective.
Cooke, meanwhile, says that while Fried’s actions may be legal, the law allowing her to suspend carry licenses before a conviction is the bigger issue.
None of this justifies Florida’s statute, which could easily have been written differently, and which should make everybody who cherishes the presumption of innocence feel a little uncomfortable. As a matter of basic political hygiene, it is a bad idea to condition constitutional rights upon the absence of a mere accusation, and the fact that we are dealing here with two things (guns and the alleged Capitol rioters) that the establishment press tends to loathe makes the case against such provisions stronger still.
He’s not wrong, and perhaps Fried’s very public highlighting of the Florida statute will lead to lawmakers taking a second look at the laws of the state when it comes to license suspensions or revocations.
As for Fried herself, the publicizing of the license suspensions turns her actions into a political stunt that seems designed to help shore up support among Democrats in her gubernatorial bid. While there hasn’t been a ton of polling on the race, several surveys of voters over the past couple of months have shown that Democrat Charlie Crist is more popular than Fried in a hypothetical matchup against Gov. Ron DeSantis (though both trail the sitting Republican governor by nearly double digits). Fried’s looking for a way to stand out and build her name among Democrat voters, but I suspect that doing something “legal but stupid” isn’t the best way to go about it.