By BRENDAN FARRINGTON | Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Licensed gun owners would be able to openly carry their weapons in public under a bill approved by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday.
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz cited federal crime statistics that show that states that allow the open carry of handguns have fewer robberies, murders and violent crime.
“The statements from some of the shrillest voices that oppose the Second Amendment that this will lead to the wild, wild West are unfounded based on any review of the crime data and statistics that are maintained by the Department of Justice,” said Gaetz, R-Shalimar, who is sponsoring the bill (HB 163).
Florida is one of five states that don’t allow people to openly carry guns in some form. The others are South Carolina, New York, Illinois and California.
“I don’t like being in the same league when it comes to gun laws with California, New York and Illinois,” said Eric Friday, a lobbyist for the group rights group Florida Carry. “Open carry provides a deterrent effect on criminals that no other method accomplishes.”
But Orlando resident Shawn Bartelt told lawmakers it would be scary and intimidating to see people walking around openly carrying guns. She said it could also affect tourism.
“I don’t want my kids raised in a world where we’re not being more civilized. We’re being less civilized,” said Bartelt, 61. “Sixty million tourists come to Orlando every year. They’re on I-Drive, doing the I. They don’t want to be walking down I-Drive with a bunch of people with open carry. What does that say about Florida?”
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said the bill is a crime prevention measure, saying people will be unlikely to attack someone they know has a gun.
“We have to not only need to be prepared to protect ourselves with the right to bear arms, but we also have to be able to demonstrate that we are prepared to protect ourselves,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Dave Kerner of Lake Worth, who is a former police officer, said he couldn’t support the bill because it doesn’t require guns to be safely holstered and it doesn’t require gun owners be instructed on how to prevent someone from taking their gun from them during a fight or other situation.
“They can lawfully walk past a bank, past a bar, past a school with a weapon in their hand not encased in a holster. They can have it in their pants exposed without the benefit of a holster. The right to carry a weapon irresponsibly is not a constitutional right,” he said. “To have an open carry policy in the state of Florida with 20 million without even one mention of how to safely retain and protect your weapon is unconscionable.”
Also Tuesday, the Senate Community Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bill (SB 130) that would ban backyard gun ranges and celebratory gunfire on residential neighborhoods with at one or more homes per acre.