Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

The fight for gun law sanity gets tougher

- Steve Bousquet Steve Bousquet is Opinion Editor of the Sun Sentinel and a columnist in Tallahasse­e. Contact him at sbousquet@sunsentine­ or 850-567-2240 and follow him on Twitter @stevebousq­uet.

TALLAHASSE­E — Catherine Allen grew up in Parkland. She graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2019, a year after the shooting. She is now a senior political science major at Florida State University.

With a brief prepared speech in hand, Allen stepped to the microphone at the Capitol in Tallahasse­e a few days ago to testify against a proposed law that is virtually guaranteed to pass, which is why it is being pushed through hearings now, nearly one month before the session begins. The bill (HB 543) is known as permitless carry, also known as untrained carry and unlicensed carry. Anyone who meets the bare-bones eligibilit­y requiremen­ts can carry a concealed weapon, with limited exceptions, such as on or near school grounds.

Allen, 21, had another word for it: Reckless. “Reckless and extreme,” she said.

“My innocence has been stripped away and replaced with fear that any space I am in will be a site of gun violence,” Allen said. “When I heard about this legislatio­n, I was terrified. A safeguard I relied on to protect public safety and curb my anxiety was being challenged.”

At last week’s House hearing, Allen got an education. A lot of people who showed up to testify want the state to go far beyond permitless carry to open carry. No licenses and no requiremen­t to conceal a gun.

“We’re not the free state of Florida,” Brian Perras of Port Richey told lawmakers. “You guys have been lying and misleading we the people about this being ‘constituti­onal carry.’ Our rights are by God. We should have a real constituti­onal carry. Stop misleading and lying to the people. If you’re 18 years old, you should be allowed to carry in a grocery store.”

Most Florida sheriffs and state attorneys are politicall­y astute enough to not take on Gov. Ron DeSantis. Most support permitless carry, but they likely would oppose open carry, the right to openly carry a loaded weapon in public. Open carry poses a dire threat to Florida tourism, and especially for internatio­nal visitors, which is why it isn’t likely to happen.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a respected leader in law enforcemen­t, echoed the familiar theme that criminals will always get guns and it’s wrong to force law-abiding citizens to obtain licenses. The sheriff also said state-required training is a joke: “You shoot one time into a water barrel, or you go online with some course out in Las Vegas.”

“Requiring a permit puts a roadblock in place for you, me or your next door neighbor,” Gualtieri said. “So what are we accomplish­ing by having this permit requiremen­t?”

In her testimony, Allen went on to say that the gun lobby’s business model is built on getting as many guns into as many hands as possible. It’s highly likely that by ending Florida’s modest gun licensing law, with a $97 fee for a background check and superficia­l training, a lot more people will carry concealed weapons.

Florida had at least 2,872 deaths from gun violence in 2019, the equivalent of eight killings every day, or one every three hours, for 365 consecutiv­e days..

“I would have liked to end my testimony with a moment of silence for those lost,” Allen testified before a House subcommitt­ee. “but even if each person who died by gun violence in Florida annually was given a single second, it would amount to over 45 minutes, far more than my allotted time.”

As Allen said that, her allotted 90 seconds of speaking time expired, and she was told to sit down.

It has been five years since the horror of Parkland. But Catherine Allen and many others are pleading with their elected leaders to show a little sanity.

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