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April 21, 2008

The Latest from the Gunshine State

Permissive Gun Laws Fail to Prevent Dramatic Increase in Violent Gun Crime

Florida has long been known as a state with loose gun laws. A “Shall Issue” state for concealed carry permits (meaning that local law enforcement must issue a concealed weapons license to an applicant if he/she passes a background check and meets modest safety/training requirements), Florida is also notable for being the first state to pass a “Shoot First” law at the behest of the National Rifle Association (NRA). The 2005 law expanded Floridians’ right to use deadly force in self-defense inside and outside the home and eliminated any duty to retreat (if possible) before resorting to the use of such force.

The NRA and other pro-gun groups have praised these laws, arguing that the more than 400,000 Floridians who have obtained concealed carry permits will make their state safer because criminals will be concerned that potential victims could be packing heat. As the gun lobby frequently claims, “an armed society is a polite society.” Skeptics were even told that these laws would deter rapists by arming women and giving them the freedom to fight back.

Recent statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, however, have cast serious doubt on these claims. The figures for 2007 show an 11.5% increase in gun murders, a 25% increase in armed robberies with guns, and a 20% increase in forcible rapes in which a gun was used. Notably, the overall violent crime rate in the state went up by only 1.4 percent in 2007.

These statistics demonstrate a point that Harvard researcher David Hemenway has often made. America is not unique in its overall level of violent crime. What separates us from other industrialized democracies is that American violence tends to end in death; and that is because we own more guns per capita than any other high income country. Looking at Florida’s 2007 statistics again, the overall murder rate went up by 6.5%, but murders in which a knife was used actually decreased by 24%. Easy access to guns in the state is responsible for the discrepancy, as it makes crime more lethal.

Perhaps Florida’s permissive gun laws are arming criminals and violent individuals in addition to law-abiding citizens. It was only a little over a year ago that the Orlando Sun-Sentinel released a bombshell report indicting the failures of Florida’s concealed carry permitting process. In a 2007 article, the Sentinel revealed that Florida’s CCW list included more than 1,400 people who pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies, 216 people with outstanding warrants, 128 people with active domestic violence injunctions against them, and six registered sex offenders. In response, the Florida legislature passed a bill banning the public and press from accessing this information in the future.

Recent action by Florida’s elected officials has been equally puzzling. First, Governor Charlie Crist refused to make any comment on the increase in gun crime. Then, on April 9, the Florida legislature finalized its approval of a bill that will prohibit businesses from preventing those with concealed carry permits from keeping handguns and assault rifles locked in their cars at work. The governor has indicated he will sign the bill, despite the intense opposition of business interests in the state.

Florida’s elected officials are clearly eager to please the gun lobby. Are they up to the task of protecting their citizens, ensuring public safety and protecting individual rights? A serious effort in this area would begin with measures to prevent criminal access to firearms and to respect the interests of private property owners who do not want firearms on their premises.

More guns, less crime? Not in sunny Florida…

1 comment:

  1. I see that the "more guns, less crime" theory isn't working in Indiana, either.

    I just read that the twins of the pregnant teller shot in the abdomen during a bank robbery have both died. And their mother is still in poor condition. Access the story here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24313905/

    As a new mother, this is doubly heartbreaking to me.

    (I don't even have to mention the past weekend's violence in Chicago.)

    I just want to say that, as a nation of overachievers, we have miserably failed to keep guns out of too many hands.

    The notion that guns prevent crimes has fallen flat on its face again and again.

    What does it take for groups like the NRA to see this? A massacre with a machine gun that kills over 100 people at one time? Or a new, wonderful invention of a gun that simultaneously shoots a thousand bullets at once, yet is lightweight and compact enough to carry in a purse?