In Florida, a bill that would allow people to openly carry guns in public recently cleared its first hurdle in the House.
Florida is currently one of just five states that explicitly bans open carry, and Republican State Representative Matt Gaetz wants to change that. He introduced the bill, HB 163, in the Florida House of Representatives. His father, State Senator Don Gaetz, introduced similar legislation in the Senate.
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Rep. Gaetz about what the bill would do, and why he believes open carry legislation would be good for Florida.
On his open carry legislation
“Well, my legislation, in its purest and simplest form, restores constitutional liberty. Florida is one of only five states in America today that does not allow citizens to carry a firearm openly. We would still require a Floridian to have a permit to do so. We would allow private property owners to define the terms of firearm activity on their private property, but if someone is on public property or their own property and they would like to openly carry a handgun, we think Florida ought to join the 45 other states who permit their citizens to do that.”
What would the permit process be like to carry a handgun openly?
“Well, right now, we’ve got about 20 million Floridians and about a million of them have a concealed carry permit. Felons are not eligible for a concealed carry permit. I’m a Republican member, I worked with a Democrat member in the 2011 session to curtail the ability of those who are mentally ill to obtain a concealed carry permit, and also one can only obtain one of these permits for a handgun. So there wouldn’t be an opportunity when my bill passes for someone to, you know, walk down the street with an AK-47 in their hand, but someone could openly carry a handgun with a permit.”
On the importance of citizens being allowed to openly carry
I think that Florida is getting it right. I think we’re vindicating constitutional rights, and we’re striking an appropriate balance.
“It’s not about whether or not the issue’s important to me. It was important to the founders who drafted our constitution… You know, there’s a constitutional right to bear arms in our country – of course subject to, you know, common sense gun laws, like the gun laws we have in Florida that require background checks and waiting periods. And regardless of how one feels about those – and there’s healthy debate about it – there’s certainly, I think, an existing regulatory structure there that the bill does not alter. But if someone obtains a permit to carry concealed, there’s no evidence to suggest that allowing that person to carry their firearm openly would in any way impair public safety. But we are vindicating and restoring people’s rights, and that’s always an exciting thing to do in government.”
Why introduce this bill so soon after the shooting in Oregon?
“The premise of your question is that somehow restoring people’s constitutional liberties and allowing people to carry firearms openly would in any way increase the propensity of mass shootings or other violent crime. Actually, the opposite is true. The Department of Justice maintains a bureau of crime reporting statistics. The most recent year that those statistics have been maintained and aggregated was the year 2012. In 2012, 42 states allowed open carry and eight states did not, and in the states that allowed open carry, violent crime was actually 23 percent lower. The murder rate was 5 percent lower. The robbery rate was 36 percent lower. The aggravated assault rate was 23 percent lower, so there is absolutely no statistical basis for the position that allowing people to openly carry firearms would increase the propensity of mass shootings or violent crime.”
On a Stanford study that linked right-to-carry with more violent crime
“Well, the statistics that I cite don’t come from a college. They come from the United States Department of Justice. Also, the Stanford study does not isolate their review of open carry laws. Their reviewing all elements of gun laws, so, you know, I think the conclusion in the Stanford study deals more with the extent to which states have background checks – Florida is a background check state, by the way – the extent to which there are waiting periods. Florida is a waiting period state. Florida does not allow, for example, felons to carry firearms and so there are a number of alternate causalities. But if you simply look at the issue of open carry, which is what my data reflects, there’s absolutely no correlation with higher crime. There is a correlation with lower crime.”
On Obama’s call for tighter gun laws after the Oregon shooting
What we’ve got to remember about gun-free zones, like college campuses, is that they only disarm the law-abiding citizens.
“The president’s comments are in no way germane to the legislation that I’ve offered. The president is speaking to who can get a gun. My legislation doesn’t change one iota who can or cannot get a gun. It simply indicates that if someone can get a gun that they should be able to carry that gun openly. As a matter of fact, in my legislative career and in the state of Florida in the year 2011, we passed legislation restricting the ability of certain segments of the mentally ill population to obtain a gun. So, you know, I think that Florida is getting it right. I think we’re vindicating constitutional rights, and we’re striking an appropriate balance to make sure that we don’t have individuals with known severe mental illness, you know, who’ve gotten out of a mental institution and are then able to go and buy a firearm.”
Do you think colleges have the right to say ‘no, you can’t carry on this campus’?
“No, I don’t. Because a college campus is not private property in many circumstances. You know, I went to Florida State University, that’s property that’s maintained with tax dollars and by the public and I think that if the public is supporting this institution and it’s public property, there should not be a circumstance where the government goes in and restricts people’s rights. You know, at Florida State, where I went, we recently had a shooting. I knew the shooter. He was a friend and colleague of mine when I was there and in that library, you know, where people were struck with bullets, we had folks who had just returned back from Afghanistan who were veterans who otherwise would have had their firearms, who otherwise would have been able to protect themselves and others, were highly skilled, and as a result of college campuses being gun-free zones, they were disarmed. You know what we’ve got to remember about gun-free zones, like college campuses, is that they only disarm the law-abiding citizens.”