Permitless carry legislation didn’t even receive a single hearing in the state legislature last year, but the measure is poised to be one of the first bills sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis when lawmakers officially kick off this year’s session in two weeks. Both the House and Senate have already held hearings on their versions of the legislation and the scope of the bills appear to be set, despite protests by some Second Amendment advocates that the measure doesn’t go far enough, along with anti-gun activists who say the bill goes too far.
Many of the arguments from the anti-gun side of the debate have been largely recycled from the 1980s, when Florida legislators adopted “shall issue” language for concealed carry licenses. Back then, the gun control lobby and their allies in local and national media lost their minds over the bill’s language; warning of Wild West-style shootouts over parking spaces and an explosion of violent crime at a time when the state’s homicide rate was already above the national average. Florida would become the “Gunshine State”, and tourists would stay away in droves as the state descended into armed anarchy.
The exact opposite happened, with violent crime (including murders) quickly dropping even as the national rate continued to increase, but anti-gunners continue to trot out these talking points every time lawmakers expand or strengthen the right to armed self-defense. In 1998 then-state legislator Debbie Wasserman Schultz opposed a reciprocity bill because “in South Florida, we have a big enough crime problem without having people from all over the country running around with guns beneath their vests”.
In 2005 the Brady Campaign even spent money putting up billboards warning tourists of the supposed dangers of the state’s Stand Your Ground law.
The ads warn: “Florida law now allows people to shoot to kill if they feel threatened – please be careful.” A flyer to be distributed to tourists arriving at airports in the Sunshine State also advises visitors not to argue with locals and to keep their hands in sight if they are involved in a car crash. It warns: “Do not shout or make threatening gestures.”
The organisation says that it has taken the unusual step to make sure that tourists are aware of the changed circumstances. It is handling the ad campaign in house, although design company The Focal Point has designed the billboard poster.
The move has been condemned as inflammatory and “ridiculous” by the office of state governor Jeb Bush, the brother of President George W Bush.
That’s a pretty good description of a lot of the current opposition to the permitless carry bill under consideration too, including a recent column by Florida tour guide Sylvia Gurnisky, who’s convinced that the passage of the bill would result in huge numbers of potential tourists choosing to spend their money elsewhere.
As we know and are grateful for — financially and otherwise — tourists like to come from around the world to the Sunshine State.And they like to feel safe.News travels a lot faster now than it did during the early 1980s, when the drug trade flooded South Florida with guns and shootings, and during the early 1990s, when numerous international visitors were murdered across Florida.A lot has been done since then by Floridians who put out the welcome mat. They’ve worked particularly hard to restore international tourism since COVID hit. It’s been a struggle. And it may get tougher.That’s because these days, almost anyone can turn on a phone and almost instantly know that Florida could be ready to end gun safety requirements. It’s possible that neither licenses nor permits will be necessary for most gun owners in a state where a license will still be needed to drive or fish.
Neither of which are constitutionally-protected activities, mind you. But to ease Gudinsky’s mind a little, here’s some data. In 1987, when Florida became “shall issue”, the state had 34-million visitors. Last year, the state saw 35.1-million tourists just between July and September. And a look at historical trends shows the tourism numbers steadily marching upwards, even as “shall issue” concealed carry, “Stand Your Ground”, and other pro-self-defense measures were enacted into law. This research from Florida Tax Watch is from March of 2006, but it’s plan to see that the continued improvements to the state’s gun laws since the late 80s weren’t driving tourists away.
Gudinsky can rest her fears about permitless carry putting her out of a job. Tourists are going to continue traveling to Florida, just as they keep planning and taking trips to the 25 other states across the country that have already adopted permitless or Constitutional Carry laws. COVID-19 dealt a blow to the tourism industry in most states, but there’s no evidence that strengthening the Second Amendment keeps visitors away.
You’d think after almost 40 years the gun prohibitionists would have come up with a better argument, especially since their original claims have all proven to be false. Florida did not become a more dangerous place after “shall issue” concealed carry was adopted. Tourists did not boycott the state or its abundant attractions. Heck, Florida is the fastest growing state in the nation right now, and part of that is because of its gun laws, not in spite of them. Ron DeSantis talked a lot about his support for permitless carry on the campaign trail last November (including in some “gun-free zones” of his own approval, apparently) while Charlie Crist tried to make it a campaign issue.
DeSantis says he’ll sign “constitutional carry” into law.
Why in the hell would we even think about allowing permitless concealed carry in Florida?
— Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) May 25, 2022
On Election Night, Crist didn’t have to stay up late to learn he’d lost, and that permitless concealed carry is far more popular than he thought it was. DeSantis clobbered his Democratic opponent by nearly 20-points and more than 1.5-million votes statewide. If Floridians were really opposed to the direction lawmakers have been taking on the Second Amendment, they sure have a funny way of showing it.
Anti-gun activists were entirely wrong in their predictions about “shall issue” concealed carry in the 1980s, and they’re going to be proven wrong about their apocalyptic forecasts for the state if permitless carry is approved as well. Hopefully Gudinski and others will at least have the honesty to admit their mistakes in a few years, as a few opponents of concealed carry did decades ago.
Representative Ron Silver, the leading opponent of Florida’s carry reform, graciously admitted in November 1990, “There are lots of people, including myself, who thought things would be a lot worse as far as that particular situation [carry reform] is concerned. I’m happy to say they’re not.”
John Fuller, general counsel for the Florida Sheriffs Association, stated, “I haven’t seen where we have had any instance of persons with permits causing violent crimes, and I’m constantly on the lookout.”
Law-abiding citizens weren’t the problem back then and they’re not an issue today. Permitless carry won’t lead to chaos in the streets or empty amusement parks devoid of visitors because tourists are too terrified to visit Florida. We’ve had almost forty years of fearmongering over the state’s gun laws, all while violent crime has dramatically declined and both temporary visitors and permanent residents have increased, which tells me that while these anti-gun activists may make a lot of noise they’re not changing any minds.