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Rep. Matt Gaetz: 'Show Us Your Gun'

Lucio Eastman
WIkimedia Commons

A divided Florida House panel voted Tuesday to allow concealed weapons permit holders to openly carry their handguns. Critics raised a host of concerns.

Standing before the Criminal Justice Committee, Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach knew his bill had an image problem.

Not only does open-carry raise notions of the Wild West, the bill comes on the heels of last week’s horrific mass shooting on an Oregon campus. So Gaetz stressed Second Amendment rights — and what the bill DOESN’T do.

“It does not increase the number of people who can carry weapons and it does not in any way alter in any way the places where people can carry firearms. That is the bill Mr. Chairman. Thank you…”

Only concealed weapons permit holders would be able to carry their guns on the outside of their clothes. Rifles and shotguns would have to remain out of sight. Gaetz insists the bill doesn’t force businesses to let their customers pack heat.

But politics is all about perception, and critics offered some troubling ones. Democratic Representative Dave Kerner of Lake Worth worried about pickpockets grabbing guns in broad daylight.

“This is a strikingly and frightening concept. To have an open carry policy in the state of Florida with 20 million people without even one mention of how to safely retain and protect your weapon.”

Critics and opponents tiptoed around the nine murdered students in Oregon and the debate was mostly polite. But National Rifle Association lobbyist Maron Hammer didn’t shy away from the tragedy.

Victims would have scared the shooter away if he saw their guns, Hammer says.

“Do you think some crazy would have walked on to campus if he knew that there were armed people there who would have stopped him before he would have massacred a lot of people.”

In a Republican-dominated Legislature, Geatz has to worry about the business lobby. The Florida Chamber of Commerce is concerned the bill doesn’t spell out a store-owner’s property rights.

Law enforcement groups also hold powerful sway in Tallahassee and they often oppose loosening gun restrictions. The Florida Sheriff’s Association has no position on the bill, but Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey drove seven hours to testify for Gaetz.

Ivey doesn’t worry deputies will confuse good guys from bad.

“No, absolutely, because you are identifying people that are potential threats to you. All you’re talking about is the difference of somebody who has a jacket on or a jacket off in that regard. Because that person could have a concealed carry permit just as well.”

Ivey says, however, that police will likely have to get extra training.

Jim Ash is a reporter at WFSU-FM. A Miami native, he is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.