The Gunshine state is known for being a mecca of sorts for gun owners. The permissive concealed carry standard all but ensures that any law-abiding citizen can obtain a permit if they so choose. As a result, more than 1.5 million people have been issued a concealed carry permit, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Remember, also, that there is a historical context here. Florida was a shall-issue state (circa 1988) long before shall issue became mainstream. Florida was one of the pioneers of creating an issuing standard that didn’t require approval from one’s chief law enforcement officer. In this respect, the Gunshine state was ahead of its time.
But as it relates to open carry, however, the Gunshine state is still living in the past. Open carry is effectively banned in Florida. But there are some exceptions. And if one is feeling creative, they can work around the ban. For example, open carry is permitted if one is hunting, fishing, camping, attending a gun show, shooting at the range and while going to and from such activities, so if you wanted to, you can simply keep a tackle box and rod in your truck and if you’re ever pulled over you can say to the inquiring officer, “I’m going fishing.”
While there is enough of a loophole to work around the ban, the point that gun rights advocates have argued is that they shouldn’t have to pretend to be doing something else to exercise a Constitutionally-protected right. An un-infringe-able right to keep and bear arms is self-evident enough to permit open carry (and concealed carry for that matter).
But the law in Florida says otherwise. And now, the debate over the outdated law is at the state’s high court. It arrived there because of Dale Norman, a Fort Pierce man who was arrested for carrying openly several years ago. Norman, an otherwise law-abiding citizen, had a permit to carry concealed but opted to carry openly instead, thus flouting the letter of the law. In court, joined by various gun-rights groups, Norman challenged the constitutionality of the open carry ban.
Norman lost. He was ordered to pay court costs as well as a $300 fine. Normal then appealed to the 4th District 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach. He lost again. In Feb. 2015, the court ruled that the ban “does not improperly infringe on Florida’s constitutional guarantee, nor does it infringe on the ‘the central component’ of the Second Amendment — the right of self-defense.”
This time around, in front of the state Supreme Court, he’s hoping his luck will change. This week, lawyers on both sides of the issue made their respective cases, while the justices jumped into the fray, challenging the arguments being put forth.
“Quite frankly, the Legislature at this point has deprived citizens of the substantive right to bear arms,” said Eric Friday, an attorney for Florida Carry, one of the organizations aiding Norman. “They have offered no evidence, and they have not met their burden that they are required to meet under strict scrutiny, to show that there is some real harm that is being addressed by this ban.”
Justices Barbara Pariente fired back at Friday, attempting to argue that the ban on open carry isn’t really a ban on open carry.
“This isn’t a ban,” Pariente said. “It’s just a ban on the method of carrying that the Legislature has determined protects public safety more than people walking around like they’re in the wild west.
If you read Pariente remark a couple times it becomes quite humorous. “It isn’t a ban… It’s just a ban on carrying…” Huh? So, you mean it is a ban? Or, it isn’t a ban? For the record, it sounds like a ban to me. The next question — if we agree that it’s a ban — is whether it is justified. A question that was raised by one of the justices who responded to a point made by Heidi Betterndorf, Assistant Attorney General, representing the state in the case.
“My opponent argues that the constitutional right is the right to open carry outside the home,” said Betterndorf. “The state’s position is the constitutional right is the right to carry outside the home. So, therefore, you can reasonably regulate under the Florida Constitution.”
Justice Charles Canady questioned Betterndorf’s statement, saying, “The fact that it’s a policy decision that has an impact on the Second Amendment right is not the end of the discussion. There has got to be some kind of a justification for it.”
Whether the high court will come to this conclusion or not, there is no reasonable justification to ban open carry. The “public safety” concern and the “wild west” comparison are complete bunk. As it stands right now, at least 27 states have permissive open carry laws, meaning law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry openly without a permit or license. To put it another way, have states like Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Mississippi descended into chaos following the passage of their respective open carry laws? Heck no! So there is no legitimate reason to deny law-abiding, Floridians their right to carry firearms openly.
We’ll keep you posted as to what the court decides.