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Politics

More States Allow Guns Without Permits; Florida Fires a Blank on Weapons

March 7, 2012 - 6:00pm

Despite its reputation as a gun-friendly state, Florida is losing ground to liberal enclaves like Vermont and Maine when it comes to carrying concealed weapons.

Four states -- Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming -- allow their residents to "conceal carry" without a permit. Twelve more states are considering legislation to join that group. But Florida is not among them.

Florida remains among the leaders in safeguarding gun owners' rights. For example, it bars physicians from asking patients if they own a gun, while visitors to hospitals and nursing homes are allowed to carry in their weapons.

Florida also liberally interprets the "Castle Doctrine," which makes it legal for homeowners, and even car drivers, to shoot in defense of their property if they feel "threatened."

Such laissez-faire laws have alternately earned praise or elicited condemnation for the "Gunshine State."

But this year, other states are gaining ground on gun rights.

South Dakota will be the fifth state to go permit-less if Gov. Dennis Daugaard signs enabling legislation. Under the newly passed law, anyone 18 or older with a valid state driver's license could carry a concealed weapon as long as they don't have a background that would otherwise prohibt them from getting a permit, USA Today reported.

"Our viewpoint is, a good person will always be a good person. They don't need a [permit] to be a good person," said Andrew Arulanandam, policy director for the National Rifle Association.

In New Hampshire, permit-free legislation has cleared the House. Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell, said the recent school shooting in Cardon, Ohio, was a deadly reminder of the ineffectiveness of supposedly strict gun enforcement.

"Gun-free zones kill people," Hoell told USA Today.

Ohio and Virginia -- the site of the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech -- are among the states weighing permit-free legislation. Others are Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

Gun-control advocates say the legislation is a prescription for tragedy

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says it would be foolish to allow people who have never even shot a firearm to carry one in public.

"This is just a recipe for disaster," said Brian Malte, Brady's director of state legislation.

Florida, which has issued 2.1 million conceal-carry permits -- 800,000 of which are "active" -- has generally offered a friendly climate for gun owners.

Last year, the Legislature prohibited local governments from passing their own patchwork of gun laws that could vary from one part of the state to another. Gun-rights advocates hailed the bill as an important piece of legislation that prevents unfair prosecutions as individuals travel from one part of the state to another.

"Of all the permitted gun holders in Florida, only 168 have done something wrong with a firearm necessitating revocation of their license to carry," Caranna said. "It is by far the most law-abiding segment of the population -- even more than law enforcement."

"Issuing permits doesn't do anything to curb crime," he said.

Caranna said his group will open up another gun-rights front in Florida when it pushes for an "open-carry" law next session.

"Right now, you cannot open-carry a gun unless you're hunting, camping, fishing or shooting at a gun range, or at your home or business. Technically, you can be cited for open-carrying at a friend's house," he noted.

Reach Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 559-4719.

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