Legislation to legalize open carry in Florida may be steadily making its way through the Florida Legislature, but some of the mayors of the state’s largest cities are speaking out against the proposal, saying it would create a dangerous environment for area residents.
Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat who has served as the mayor of the state’s third largest city since 2011, penned an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times Friday, saying the bill would “threaten public safety” and the economic development of the Tampa Bay area.
“I'm certain that this legislation will undermine the tremendous progress Tampa has made on so many fronts,” Buckhorn wrote. “It threatens public safety, tourism, economic development job creation and our quality of life.
The bill, HB 163, is a father-son effort from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. If the bill becomes law, Floridians with concealed weapons permits would be allowed to "openly carry" their firearms in the Sunshine State. Anyone who willfully infringed on concealed weapons permit holders’ right to openly carry (like law enforcement officers) would face a $5,000 fine. Government entities who try to infringe upon the open carry rule could face an even higher penalty, $100,000.
Buckhorn said the legislation was worrying because it would complicate law enforcement officers’ jobs, making it difficult for them to distinguish between “good guys” and “bad guys” at the scene of a crime.
“Our police officers need to make split-second decisions in these kinds of scenarios — they do not have the luxury of time to decipher a good Samaritan from a criminal,” Buckhorn wrote. “Adding open carry to the mix is going to make their job even tougher and potentially add to the number of victims in already tragic and life-threatening situations.”
In 2015, violent crime in the Tampa Bay Area was at its lowest level since 1985.
Some law enforcement officers across Florida have said they’d support some version of the legislation, with the Florida Sheriffs Association proposing an alternative bill which would require that people intentionally and deliberately violate the law before they could be arrested for displaying their firearm.
Prior to their proposed alternative, the FSA was vehemently against open carry, saying the bill would make law enforcement officers' jobs more complicated.
Despite the FSA’s general opposition to the current bill, another group representing law enforcement officers, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, hopped onboard with the legislation.
"The police chiefs understand that momentum is building," association spokeswoman Sandi Poreda said, explaining the association would support the legislation with amendments. "And because of their concerns for police officers' safety, they wanted to go ahead and reach out to the bill sponsors and work on these amendments, which they believe will better protect officers."
But for politicians like Buckhorn, open carry just isn’t a good idea and could have far-reaching repercussions for one of the state’s most thriving economic regions. Buckhorn expressed concerns it would be difficult to attract tourists and big economic booster like the Super Bowl (which has twice been held in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium) to the area.
Beyond the economic impact, Buckhorn said it just wasn’t the right solution for what he sees is an overwhelming problem of gun violence nationwide.
“I believe it is a foolish and ineffective solution to the gun violence epidemic sweeping our nation,” he wrote. “More guns do not equate to safer streets.”
There are currently around 1.45 million people with concealed weapons permits statewide. Florida would join the 45 other states allowing the practice if the bill passes through the legislature this year.