Words by Mallory Pace
Florida legalized “constitutional carry” on July 1 which allowed authorized residents to carry a concealed weapon or firearm without a license. More than half of U.S. states have added similar legislature, yet it still remains a controversial topic across the political spectrum.
What does the law say?
The law allows authorized Florida residents to carry a concealed weapon or firearm without a concealed weapon license. Before July 2023, that same standard required a firearm safety and training course and $97 licensing fee. A background check and a three-day waiting period are still mandatory to purchase a firearm from licensed dealers, and there are other restrictions such as being a Florida resident and at least 21 years old. While in possession of a concealed weapon, individuals must carry government ID (like a driver license) and provide it to law enforcement if asked, and the weapon can only be carried in designated locations.
But, it doesn’t make it entirely a free-for-all. The law doesn’t apply to those who have been convicted of a felony or of certain violent crimes, been committed by a court to a mental institution or substance abuse facility or have been found guilty of drug crimes or being an illegal drug user. Federal law prohibits anyone who uses a controlled substance, including marijuana, to purchase or possess a firearm.
There are certain places where concealed weapons cannot be carried, including police stations, jails, courthouses, polling stations, bars, airports and school property. David Katz, a Florida-based firearm attorney, clarified that this new law does not change previous limitations for possessing a concealed firearm on public and private school properties, which is prohibited. Katz is the co-author of “Florida Gun Law: Armed and Educated,” a guide to Florida gun law, and speaks throughout the state on gun laws and gun owners’ rights. He explained that although intention does not matter when it comes to possessing a firearm on school property, the new law changes penalties for doing so. A person with a CWFL (Certified Weapon Firearm License) prior to the new law, would be charged with a misdemeanor crime if they possess a gun on school grounds and a person without a CWFL would have been charged with a felony.
“Under the new law, a person who could qualify for a CWFL — even if they do not have one — who possessed a firearm on school grounds will be charged with a misdemeanor under the new law and those who could not lawfully qualify for a CWFL would be charged with a felony,” he said. Under Florida law, Katz explained, citizens are allowed to keep a concealed firearm in their vehicle while on school property. Under federal law, it is permitted with a CWFL. Without a CWFL, the firearm may still be in the vehicle, but it must be unloaded and kept in a locked container or gun rack. There are also limitations on driving through a school zone with a concealed weapon inside a vehicle.
“You may only do so if you have a concealed weapons license issued by the state in which the school is located, otherwise you are violating the federal Gun-free School Zones Act and can be charged with a federal felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison,” Katz said.
Florida is one of three states that currently bans open carrying, meaning having a weapon openly displayed or kept in plain sight. This new law does not change that — firearms must remain concealed unless asked for by law enforcement. What changes is the need for a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Florida has issued more than 2.5 million concealed weapons permits as of June 30, 2023, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Duval County makes up about 111,228 of those permits.
How did we get here?
The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution has been interpreted over the years to mean that citizens hold the right to own and carry a variety of firearms. Supporters argue that the founding fathers intended the Second Amendment to ring true, even today. By this logic, any laws against owning or carrying guns should be deemed unconstitutional because our founding fathers said so. But did they?
Interpretations of the Second Amendment differ vastly, but context is key. Before the landmark 2008 Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, courts had recognized the right to individual citizens to bear arms only existed within the context of participation in “a well-regulated militia” as it is defined in the Second Amendment. the militia. But the precedent was overturned in the Heller ruling, changing personal gun rights as we know them.
When discussing the Second Amendment, something else to consider is the level of weaponry accessible in the 18th century versus today. In 2018, one young man killed 17 people, including 14 children, in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the shooter killed 17 people in about six minutes. Back when the Second Amendment was signed, the “right to bear arms” looked like firearms that held a single round at time and could fire about three effective rounds per minute. The Parkland shooting is just one of the hundreds of mass shootings the country has seen over the past years, yet there have been no new nationwide laws to limit access to such weapons.
How do voters feel about this law?
Supporters of the law consider the idea that criminals, or people who wish to inflict harm on others, aren’t affected by a law that requires a permit anyway. In other words, bad people get their hands on firearms with or without a permit requirement, so law-abiding citizens should be given the immediate right to defend themselves. In theory, that makes total sense. But shouldn’t the focus be on taking guns off the streets, not adding more?
Gun laws have often been viewed as a partisan topic, seemingly split down party lines, but support and opposition to the new law fall across the political spectrum. In March, a survey from the University of North Florida polled 1,492 Floridians which showed 77% were somewhat or strongly opposed to a permit-less carry law — the majority were among Democrats but 62% of Republicans surveyed agreed. Michael Binder, faculty director of UNF’s Public Opinion Research Lab, said in a statement alongside the survey, “Not only is there bipartisan opposition to this Constitutional carry bill, but folks seem to feel passionately about it with the majority (67%) saying they strongly oppose the bill,” commented Binder.
A May 2022 Marquette Law School national survey found that 81% of U.S. adults oppose laws allowing concealed carry without a licensing requirement, according to the Center for American Progress. Other studies, like a 2017 John Hopkins University poll, found a majority of gun owners agree that a person who can legally carry a concealed weapon should be required to pass a test demonstrating their ability to do so. Despite such studies, more and more states are passing similar laws.
“Murder capital” of the state
Some worry the new law and its lack of firearm safety training requirement could worsen Florida’s existing gun violence issue. There were at least 7,900 shootings between 2019 and 2022 in Florida, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an independent data collection and research group that tracks gun violence incidents from over 7,500 law enforcement, media, government and commercial sources. Jacksonville has been long known as the “murder capital” of Florida, with 14.5 murders per 100,000 population in 2020, according to a News4Jax article. Jacksonville has been rubbing shoulders with violent crime for decades, but will a constitutional carry law change that?
Some studies show that states with more permissive gun laws see an increase in gun-related crimes. A 2022 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that right-to-carry laws increase homicides by roughly 13% and firearm violent crimes by 29%. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2021 shows some states with right-to-carry laws, like Mississippi, Alabama and Wyoming, are among the highest in firearm mortality rates. In comparison, some states with stricter gun laws like California, New York and Massachusetts are among the lowest. However, it’s important to consider the many factors that contribute to a state’s homicide rate, like poverty or infrastructure. Other studies claim that right-to-carry laws reduce violent crime or find the effects are negligible. Conclusive data on one claim or the other is hard to come by, seemingly because of the many factors that come into play. But the number of gun-related deaths the country sees each year is hard to ignore. According to the latest statistics from the CDC, more Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2021 than in any other year on record. This includes record numbers of both gun-related murders and gun-related suicides. Despite this, the gun murder rate today — 6.7 murders per 100,000 — remains below its 1974 peak which saw 7.2 recorded gun murders.
This isn’t to say that firearms should be outright banned because they shouldn’t. There absolutely is a need for defense weapons and firearms — increasingly so over the last few years. Now more than ever it’s important to be able to protect yourself and others in case you find yourself in a potentially fatal situation, like a shooting. Crime isn’t going away, and you really can never be too careful. So, where’s the line? Do we just keep fighting fire with fire in hopes someone takes out the bad guys before they can hurt anyone else? Do we just arm ourselves, treating every person as a threat and hope we make it home at night?
There are no definitive answers on the subject, but it would be naïve to say that the constitutional carry law is a bad one because it may be all we have right now. It sounds scary, but until change is made on a deeper level, one that acknowledges the right to bear arms while also keeping children safe in school, what choice is there? How do you reverse a centuries-old belief that people deserve guns, even when the consequences have become catastrophic? You don’t. It’s not like grade school where if one kid breaks the rules, he ruins it for everybody. Instead, we relax the rules until they don’t exist anymore.
It’s a grim conclusion and one that could certainly change direction in the future but not yet at least. We, as citizens of the United States, hold many rights that others do not, and we have many, many advantages because of it. But whether we have taken certain rights beyond their intended purposes is unknown. We can’t go back in time, but we can prepare for the future by protecting ourselves and our children, however we have to.