Florida’s Gun Law Sickness

Not only is there no law requiring the registration of handguns or rifles — the state has a law expressly prohibiting any such regulation.


Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

People call on Congress to do something, and all eyes turn to Washington after something like this. But the real damage gets done in the state houses. Florida isn’t the worst state in the country, but it has some certifiably insane gun laws. And if you think this shooting will stop the NRA or its toadies in Tallahassee, well, read on.

Just last week, the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives passed on a 14-6 vote something called HB-39, a bill affirming that a person who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon “does not violate the law if the firearm is temporarily and openly displayed.” That’s according to the Tallahassee Democrat, which tells us that NB-39 is one of 11 gun-related bills on the 2018 calendar.

According to the NRA, the bill’s purpose is “to stop the abuse of law-abiding citizens” whose legal guns aren’t properly concealed. Apparently, there’s an epidemic of such “abuse” afoot in the Sunshine State.

The NRA’s news item about the bill goes on to report: “Every time a law-abiding person—licensed by the state to carry for protection leaves his or her home, legally carrying a firearm—EVERYTIME—they run the risk of that firearm becoming exposed to the sight of another person and then being treated like a criminal.”

In probably three-quarters of the 50 states, this work grinds on week after grim week—the NRA declaring its ownership of Republican state legislators, and them passing laws made to order. Some of the 11 bills being considered in Tallahassee are being put forward by Democrats, in the forlorn hope of bringing some sanity to the gun debate. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, wants to prohibit the sale and transfer of assault weapons, specifically including the AR-15 used by Nick Cruz in Parkland.

But Republicans run the state House of Representatives by 76-41, and they control the State Senate by 23-15. So Stewart’s bill probably doesn’t stand a chance. In contrast, State Senator Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who chairs the committee that handles most gun legislation, has filed five bills to make it easier to buy a gun. A year ago, after a shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood airport left five dead and eight wounded, Steube reaffirmed his support for a bill allowing Floridians to carry guns in airports. Because of course—if some passengers had been armed, that would have fixed everything!

Here are the facts of the case. The shooter, Esteban Santiago, checked his unloaded Walther semiautomatic 9mm on his flight from Minneapolis. He retrieved it from the baggage carousel, went into the bathroom, loaded it, and started firing at the first people he saw.

On the off chance that one of those people had been carrying a weapon and been a skilled enough marksman to take Santiago down, well, sure, great, I guess. That might have prevented those five deaths. But here’s something that certainly would have prevented those five deaths: If Santiago couldn’t buy a semiautomatic weapon in the first place.

The gun laws of Florida are sick. Carry in vehicle? Yes. Must notify officer? No. Carry in state parks allowed? Of course. “No weapons” signs enforced? Nyet. Nearly 1.8 million Floridians have concealed carry permits, and 36 other states honor those permits.

And how’s this for hard core? Across the South, when it comes to having to register a handgun or a rifle, most states simply don’t have laws. Florida is alone among 13 Southern states—the 11 states of the Confederacy plus Oklahoma and West Virginia—in expressly prohibiting any such regulation.

Still not hard core enough for you? Okay, try this one. In 2011, Florida passed a law prohibiting doctors from asking people if they had a gun in the home. Doctors might have good reason to ask this reasonable and innocent question. To new parents. To people with histories of mental illness. For the people’s own protection, and the protection of their children. It was the first and only state with such a law. It was aimed particularly at pediatricians. Because … there aren’t enough dead kids accidentally shot by an unlocked firearm?

Small sliver of sanity: Exactly a year ago this Saturday, a federal appeals court struck down the law on an overwhelming 10-1 vote.

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This is sickness. Remember that when the sick people pushing laws that lead to these sick murders offer their “thoughts and prayers,” and then turn around and pass still more laws that ensure more “thoughts and prayers” to come.