The Constitution does not guarantee the right to carry guns. Yet the governor is likely to sign a new state gun law in the next few weeks, which will make Florida a whole lot more dangerous.
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- Some gun-rights folks say the law doesn’t go far enough
- We’ll be like the Wild West, but even they had gun control
Florida lawmakers are checking another box on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign to-do list by making Florida a “constitutional carry” state.
“I can’t tell you exactly when, but I’m pretty confident that I will be able to sign ‘constitutional carry’ into law in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said last year. “The Legislature will get it done.”
Encouraging Floridians to walk around in public with a loaded weapon, a weapon they can carry without any training on how it should be safely carried, used or stored, dovetails with his “free state of Florida” presidential campaign.
And so, like clockwork, the Republican-supermajority state Legislature is once again doing his bidding this spring by pushing through the new gun law before DeSantis formally announces his candidacy for national office.
But there’s a bit of dissension in the OK Corral. And it’s coming from the gun-rights stalwarts who feel that Florida’s new law would be just a showy “baby step” and not the sort of full-throated Second Amendment endorsement they had expected from DeSantis and his legislative lackeys.
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I’ll explain. But first, it must be mentioned that the term “constitutional carry” is a political fiction meant to confer bedrock rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, rights that aren’t there.
“Constitutional carry” is like “legitimate rape.” It doesn’t exist.
Selling guns by leaning on imaginary Constitutional dictates
The gun industry has spent a fortune promoting the false notion that the right of everyday, law-abiding American citizens to possess firearms is hard-wired into the Second Amendment.
Historian Garry Wills put it this way:
“Easy access to all these guns is hard to justify in pragmatic terms, and as a matter of social policy,” Wills wrote. “That is why the gun advocates appeal, above pragmatism and common sense, to a supposed sacred right enshrined in a document Americans revere.
“We must put up with our world-record rates of homicide, suicide and accidental shootings because, whether we like it or not, the Constitution tells us to,” Wills continued. “Well, it doesn’t.”
Former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, appointed to the high court by (Republican) President Richard Nixon in 1969, later called the NRA’s distorted interpretation of the Second Amendment one of the “greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by a special interest group.”
Gun control is an American tradition that goes back to the Wild West
And it wasn’t until “activist judges” on the right got busy in 2008 to pass the first case in our history that conferred individual rights of gun ownership for personal protection. The creative decision in the case, District of Columbia v. Heller, was written by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
That case was about the right of a licensed security guard to keep his weapon at his home for personal protection — not about carrying a loaded weapon in public.
“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” Scalia wrote in that decision. It is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
Even in the heyday of the “Wild West,” during the 1880s, towns such as Tombstone, Dodge City, and Deadwood, required visitors in town to hand over their guns to the local lawman while they remained inside town limits.
“Tombstone had much more restrictive laws on carrying guns in public in the 1880s than it has today,” Adam Winkler, a professor and specialist in American constitutional law at UCLA School of Law, told Smithsonian Magazine. “Today, you’re allowed to carry a gun without a license or permit on Tombstone streets. Back in the 1880s, you weren’t.”
So, this idea so widely espoused by Florida’s Republican lawmakers that they must continually pass more permissive gun laws because they are bound by the Constitution to not restrict the right to bear arms in any way is nonsense. And we’re seeing this grotesquerie play out as lawmakers begin hearings on the permit-less gun-carry bill in chambers where everyone entering must be unarmed for safety reasons.
More guns lead to more unnecessary deaths
It’s also worth noting that on the month these hearings began, a 3-year-old boy in Daytona Beach shot and killed himself with a legally owned gun his father left on the nightstand of their home. And in North Port, a 6-year-old shot her grandmother in the back while she was driving a car. The girl found the woman’s loaded gun in the back pocket of the driver’s seat, reached in, and fired the gun through the seat at her grandmother.
And yet, as I listened to some of the commentary lawmakers heard as the “constitutional carry” bill started making its way through the committee process, it seemed to imply that Florida was doing a poor job promoting more gun sales.
Nicholas Lahera, the spokesman for the gun retailer Big Daddy Guns, told lawmakers that his organization was fighting for “destigmatizing the gun-buying process.”
“We can only accomplish this by fighting for freedom and full constitutional carry, which includes the right to open carry,” he said.
And this is the big gripe that gun promoters have with the bill zooming through the legislature: It doesn’t go far enough for them.
Yes, it allows untrained Floridians to walk around in public with loaded guns but those guns have to be concealed under clothing. Gun rights advocates take their already imaginary right to walking around strapped to the next level — to walking around strapped with their weapons in full public view.
After all, what’s the point of being a gunslinger if you can’t show off your lethal power in the dairy aisle of the supermarket?
“Open carry” would also allow them to walk around in public with weapons too big to conceal, such as military-style mass casualty weapons like the AR-15, which fires projectiles capable of liquifying body organs and passing through metal.
Yes, those musket-loading Framers would have demanded that too, even though they were long dead by the time modern bullets were invented.
Passing a nonsensical constitutional carry bill that doesn’t allow open carry is evidence that Florida’s Republican lawmakers are trying to kowtow to their gun-fetishist base while also trying to mitigate the harm to Florida’s hospitality industry, which rightly fears the sight of so many Floridians walking around with visible loaded weapons would scare the tourists away.
And that feels like betrayal to Florida’s gun crowd.
“An open carry bill is a Cadillac. What you have here is a moped,” was the way one gun advocate told members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
And because Democrats don’t have the numbers to pass or stop any legislation in either house, Republican lawmakers are being blamed for selling out the gun folks they routinely pander to.
“This is a shuck-and-jive maneuver by a supermajority Republican Legislature,” one speaker from Alachua County told lawmakers. “Democrats don’t have no power here … Democrats can’t stop anything. They can’t add anything. Y’all have 80 percent of the members in this entire body, upper and lower house. Why do you need to false advertise something?”
Republican lawmakers have been gently telling their constituents that adding open carry can be an amendment easily adopted during a future session. But not now.
Some gun activists say they can’t support bill without “open carry”
Some gun-rights supporters say they will pull their support for the bill if it doesn’t allow guns to be openly displayed. They include Bob White, the chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida.
“We know when a deal’s been cut, we can see it as plain as day,” White told lawmakers. “The Florida House, the Florida Senate and the governors’ office got together on this bill and this is what they want, and you guys are going to pass this bill in its current form.
“You’re going to send it to the floor, and the first week of the session … and it’s going to pass, and it’s going to go to the governor and he’s going to sign it. And then there’s going to be this victory lap that is going to be taken and everybody is going to crow about how we passed constitutional carry in the state of Florida and you will have not done that at all.”
Sheesh. This is what happens when you negotiate with terrorists. You give them one imaginary constitutional right and they’ll demand another.
Frank Cerabino is a columnist at The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at email@example.com. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.