Blast from the past: Anti-gunners recycle talking points from the 80s in response to Florida permitless carry

Ira Schwarz

In 1986, Florida passed “shall issue” concealed carry legislation, kicking off a decades-long trend across the country that has continued to this day. At the time, Florida’s adoption of shall-issue language was a very big deal and a huge change to the “may issue” status quo, and gun control advocates did their best to drum up the public’s fears; predicting “Wild West shootouts” over parking spaces and a descent into a dystopian hellscape. As the NYTimes breathlessly reported in 1987 as the “shall issue” law took effect:

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Only Florida has a law ”in which a license to carry a concealed gun is given by the state,” said Sarah Brady, vice-chairman of Handgun Control Inc., a Washington-based lobbying group. ”We believe that this kind of decision should be made on a local level where people know one another rather than applying to a state office.”

Attorney General Robert A. Butterworth noted this month that the law, passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature in the spring, ”has left the area of unconcealed manual possession of a firearms totally unregulated.”

This gap has created ”the possibility of openly armed youth gangs hanging around street corners and gunmen parading through a shopping mall,” the Attorney General wrote in a letter urging that the law be amended in the current special legislative session.

”It was about time for Florida to have such a law,” said Richard M. Manning, a National Rifle Association official who pushed for the legislation.

He is counting the days until the law goes into effect Thursday. So too is Mrs. Brady and other gun control supporters, and they are worried about what will happen in Florida. Widepread weapons possession ”is not the best way to handle the increase of violence,” said Mrs. Brady, whose husband, James S. Brady, the White House press secretary, was shot in an assassination attempt against President Reagan. ”We are the only civilized nation in the world without a good gun law and we are the most violent in the West.”

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A funny thing happened after “shall issue” went into effect: crime dropped, and not just by a little bit. Between 1987 and 2019, Florida’s violent crime and homicide rates declined by more than 50%, and the state now has around 2.5-million active concealed carry licenses. But in the wake of the Florida legislature sending a permitless carry bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis, anti-gunners are dusting off their old arguments and once again deploying them in a campaign of fearmongering. Here’s a portion of Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago’s hyperbolic response to the passage of HB 543 headlined “Permitless carry and gun sanctuary cities. Visit Florida at your own risk – it’s a blast!”

This is a state where people aren’t required to register guns like they do cars or house alarms. There’s no paperwork, no background check involved when gifting or privately selling guns. Only in gun shop and gun show sales do buyers undergo basic scrutiny.
And now, not even first-time gun users will be required to learn how to use a gun, online or in a gun range, to carry a concealed gun around the rest of us.
Their new right puts the rest of us at greater risk of dying as a result of their incompetence.
The permitless carry bill, CS/HB543, now heads to Gov. DeSantis, a fan of even worse, open-carry. He will be all too giddy to sign it into law. He was the bill’s chief proponent, although, hypocritically so — the governor doesn’t want guns at his events.
Remember, he got caught asking the city of Tampa to ban firearms at his election party — and to take the blame for it so he didn’t have to?
DeSantis had nothing to worry about.
“Historic NRA Win: Constitutional Carry Passes in Florida,” the organization boasted in a press release sent, in its own words, “moments” after the vote. They’ll shower DeSantis with funds for his likely presidential run.
But for the safety at major events — like spring break in South Beach — the new law foreshadows new trouble.
Although there’s talk that it could be possible to fence in an event, call it a private party and prohibit guns — like at DeSantis’ election event — “the gun law passed by the Legislature allowing concealed weapons with no permit or training will make 2024 in South Beach a nightmare,” said Stuart Blumberg, a 77-year resident of Miami Beach and founder of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association.
Agreed, said Michael Grieco, a former Miami Beach commissioner and ex-state Rep. , a criminal defense attorney who carries a concealed weapon: “It’s just going to exacerbate the problem. I’m a Democrat and gun-owner, and this bill passed scares the crap out of me. As a father who drives his kid to school every week,” he said, pausing, “now anyone can just go buy a gun with only some nonsensical, lighthearted background check.”
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Umm, that was the case before HB 543 was approved by lawmakers. The bill doesn’t make any changes to the purchase or sale of firearms. It simply states that those Floridians who would be eligible to obtain a concealed carry license can carry a concealed firearm without the need for a government-issued permission slip. All those prohibited from possessing or carrying a firearm today will still be forbidden from doing so when the law takes effect on July 1st.
To opponents of Florida’s permitless carry bill, it’s the 1980s all over again. But while Florida was at the forefront of the “shall issue” movement almost 40 years ago, it’s far from an early adopter of permitless carry. When DeSantis signs HB 543 into law, Florida will join 25 other states in recognizing the right to bear arms without paying hundreds of dollars in fees and costs to do so. None of the doom-and-gloom predictions from anti-gunners have come to pass in those states, and not one has seen fit to repeal its permitless carry law after deciding it was a mistake.
In fact, I’ve got a story that should put Fabiola’s fears to rest. It comes from the constitutional carry state of Ohio; specifically the city of Toledo, which has not had a firearm-involved homicide since early February, when a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed inside his home. In fact, as of March 31st Toledo has only reported six homicides this year, well below where the city was at this point in 2021 and 2022, before constitutional carry took effect. The true number is likely even lower; one incident involved a man shot and killed by Toledo police, another fatal shooting is probably going to be ruled a justifiable homicide given that it was a burglar who was shot, while the family of the 15-year-old says he was the victim of an accidental shooting and not an intentional act of violence.
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I’m not exclusively crediting constitutional carry for the plunge in homicides. Crime is complicated, and there are undoubtably a number of factors at work. But it’s clear that permitless carry, by itself, does not lead to an automatic rise in shootings or gun-involved murders any more than “shall-issue” concealed carry led to more crime in Florida in the decades after it was enshrined into law. Most violent criminals aren’t legally walking around with guns to begin with, so the new law will be of little note or use to them. What’s most important is that law enforcement sticks to the tactics and strategies that are most effective in reducing violent crime; focusing on the most violent and prolific offenders instead of casting a wide net of gun control laws over the general public.
The current doomcasting over Florida’s permitless carry law is nothing more than a rehash of decades-old arguments that have been proven false time and time again. The attempts to scare the pants off the public will only intensify between now and July 1st, but gun owners should keep calm and look forward to the day when they can carry on their person without having to get a permission slip from the state beforehand.

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