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Justices Uphold Ban On Openly Carrying Guns

Lucio Eastman
WIkimedia Commons

TALLAHASSEE — Rejecting arguments by Second Amendment supporters, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a longstanding state ban on people openly carrying firearms in public.

Justices, in a 4-2 ruling, said the state law "regulates only one manner of bearing arms and does not impair the exercise of the fundamental right to bear arms."

In doing so, the Supreme Court sided with the 4th District Court of Appeal, which ruled in 2015 against a man arrested in St. Lucie County for openly carrying a gun in a holster.

"(We) agree with the 4th District and are satisfied that the state's prohibition on openly carrying firearms in public with specified exceptions — such as authorizing the open carrying of guns to and from and during lawful recreational activities — while still permitting those guns to be carried, albeit in a concealed manner, reasonably fits the state's important government interests of public safety and reducing gun-related violence," said the 47-page majority opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente and joined fully by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justice Peggy Quince.

Justice R. Fred Lewis agreed with the result but did not sign on to the opinion. But Justice Charles Canady, in a dissent joined by Justice Ricky Polston, said the law "collides with the Second Amendment right as understood" in a landmark 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a Washington, D.C. gun law.

He described as "feeble" arguments that the open-carry ban is justified for public-safety reasons.

"Of course, many people are made uncomfortable by the fact that others are permitted to keep and bear arms at all," Canady wrote in the 10-page dissent. "But contemporary sensibilities cannot be the test. Such sensibilities are no more a basis for defeating the historic right to open carrying than for defeating the understanding that the Second Amendment recognizes the right of individuals to keep and bear arms."

Justice Alan Lawson, who joined the court at the end of December, did not take part in the case. The challenge to the law stemmed from the 2012 arrest in St. Lucie County of Dale Norman, who had a concealed-weapons license but was carrying a gun openly in a holster.

A jury found Norman guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor, and a trial judge imposed a $300 fine and court costs, according to Thursday's ruling. Norman, who was represented by attorney Eric Friday of the Second Amendment group Florida Carry, then took the case to the 4th District Court of Appeal before ultimately going to the Supreme Court.

Pariente's majority opinion traced issues in the case to a 1987 law that authorized the state to issue concealed-weapons licenses. She wrote that lawmakers also passed a separate measure that year barring people from openly carrying firearms.

The majority opinion drew a distinction between the Florida open-carry ban and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Washington, D.C. case and another case involving gun laws in Chicago. She wrote that unlike those laws, "which completely banned the possession of handguns in one's home, Florida's open carry law regulates only how firearms are borne in public."

"Because this law does not amount to an entire ban on a class of guns or completely prohibit the bearing of firearms in public and does not affect the right to keep arms in one's home … we conclude that Florida's open carry law does not severely burden the right," Pariente wrote.

Canady, however, pointed to the long period of time between the 1987 legislation and the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the 2008 case, known as District of Columbia v. Heller.

"More to the point, the Legislature decided that the sacrifice of open carrying was a necessary and appropriate response to the public opposition generated by the passage of the concealed-carry law," Canady wrote. "But the legal landscape has now dramatically shifted. Heller has settled that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. And Heller's historical analysis points strongly to the conclusion that the individual right includes the right to carry arms openly in public."

Thursday's ruling came five days before the start of the 2017 legislative session, which is expected to include a series of debates about gun rights. Lawmakers last year did not pass a proposal that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry firearms.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.