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The day has come when House Bill 543: permit-less carry is in full effect. As of July 1st, 2023, Florida residents can carry concealed guns without a permit. This comes off the heels of significant gun violence on the Hollywood beach during Memorial Day weekend. With the 4th of July being tomorrow, many people are feeling increasingly worried about their safety. Alcohol, fireworks, and firearms are a terrible mix.

The ongoing debate on gun control in America remains an urgent national issue, with differing views on how best to reduce the staggering rates of gun violence that plague our society. States like Florida, known for their relaxed firearm regulations, have often been scrutinized, as they should. Florida’s lax gun laws contribute to the escalation of gun-related violence and exacerbate America’s overall gun crisis.

Florida’s gun laws, famously referred to as some of the loosest in the country, allow virtually any adult without a criminal record or history of mental illness to purchase a firearm. The state does not require a permit to purchase rifles, shotguns, or handguns, nor does it mandate firearm registration. Additionally, Florida does not impose a waiting period for potential gun owners who already possess a concealed carry license; it even permits carrying openly while hunting or fishing. And now we can add permitless carry to the list.

These laws, which seem to prioritize ease of access to firearms over thorough vetting, have dire consequences. They facilitate the proliferation of guns in the state, increasing the likelihood of weapons falling into the wrong hands – criminals, domestic abusers, and those with untreated mental illnesses.

House Bill 543: Permit-less Carry in Florida

This law permits a person to carry a concealed weapon or firearm, given that they are appropriately licensed or meet specified requirements. Individuals carrying a concealed weapon or firearm without a license must have identification available and show it upon request by law enforcement officers. Such unlicensed individuals are not allowed to carry their weapons or firearms in certain designated locations.
Nonresidents can carry concealed weapons or firearms in this state, fulfilling the same requirements as residents. Additionally, the Office of Safe Schools is tasked with creating a behavioral threat management process to ensure the safety of all individuals in educational settings.

Permitless Carry and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law”

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has consistently been in the throes of heated controversy since its inception in 2005. It has spurred rigorous discourse among legal scholars, social justice champions, and everyday citizens, owing to its profound implications. With permitless carry, we can expect an even more significant increase in “Stand Your Ground” gun violence cases. It’s an absolute guarantee. The cases that we have been seeing have been vicious and tragic enough. I cannot even imagine what will become of this law with permitless carry.

At its core, the law fundamentally alters traditional conceptions of self-defense. Conventionally, one must try and withdraw when faced with a threatening situation in a public area — a rule known as the “duty to retreat.” However, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law effectively negates this duty. Under the reasonable conviction that their life is in imminent danger, the statute allows individuals to employ lethal force to fend off the threat without any prerequisite to retreat.

Proponents of the law argue it enshrines the universal right to personal safety and freedom from fear. They claim it unshackles potential victims from the daunting choice between escape and self-defense during dangerous situations. However, despite its seemingly righteous intent, the law is mired in contention, primarily due to its ambiguous phrasing and potential for misuse.

The Heart of Ambiguity: Reasonable Belief

The term “reasonable belief” acts as the fulcrum upon which the law balances, yet it’s fraught with interpretation complications. How does one definitively ascertain what constitutes a reasonable apprehension of immediate danger? This interpretative murkiness instigates a complex jigsaw puzzle where jury members grapple to fit together pieces of judgment and discernment. In this process, underlying biases may inadvertently infiltrate their decision-making, leading to inconsistent application of the law.

Indeed, studies by the American Bar Association have revealed a disturbing racial bias within the execution of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida. A troubling pattern has emerged where defendants are more likely to successfully invoke this law when the victim is Black rather than White. This racial skew exposes an entrenched flaw within the law’s application, revealing the dangers of a subjective understanding of “reasonable belief.”

Fueling the Fire: Escalating Conflicts

Another major criticism of the law rests on its potential to amplify conflicts. The law can inadvertently foster a volatile “shoot now, think later” mindset by giving individuals the right to confront force with force rather than promoting de-escalation. This risks transforming trivial disputes into lethal showdowns.

Moreover, the law could act as a legal shield for those with aggressive intentions, allowing them to instigate a conflict and subsequently claim self-defense. This peril was vividly showcased in the Trayvon Martin case, where a neighborhood watch volunteer pursued and fatally shot an unarmed teenager who was ultimately acquitted based on the “Stand Your Ground” defense. Here are some more high-profile “Stand Your Ground Cases”:

  • The Marissa Alexander Case (2012): Marissa Alexander was initially sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she claimed was a warning shot at her abusive husband. Her “Stand Your Ground” defense was rejected in her first trial. After public outcry and an appeal, she was released in 2014 under a plea deal.
  • The Michael Drejka Case (2018): After a confrontation over a handicapped parking spot, Michael Drejka shot and killed Markeis McGlockton. Initially, Drejka was not arrested due to the “Stand Your Ground” law. However, after further review, Drejka was charged and later convicted of manslaughter.
  • The Curtis Reeves Case (2014): Curtis Reeves, a retired police captain, shot and killed Chad Oulson in a movie theater during an argument over texting. Reeves’ defense tried to apply the “Stand Your Ground” law, but the court rejected it. As of my last knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the trial had been delayed several times.
  • The Drejka Parking Lot Shooting (2018): Following a dispute over a handicapped parking space, Michael Drejka shot and killed Markeis McGlockton. Although Drejka initially avoided arrest due to the “Stand Your Ground” law, he was later charged and convicted of manslaughter after a thorough review of the case.
  • Marissa Alexander Case (2012): In a widely publicized case, Marissa Alexander was initially sentenced to 20 years for firing what she asserted was a warning shot at her abusive husband. Her initial “Stand Your Ground” defense was denied, but following a wave of public outcry and an appeal, she was granted a new trial and ultimately reached a plea deal for time served.
  • Curtis Reeves Movie Theater Shooting (2014): A dispute over texting in a movie theater led retired police captain Curtis Reeves to shoot and kill Chad Oulson. Although Reeves sought to use the “Stand Your Ground” law as a defense, the court rejected his plea. As of my last update in 2021, his trial had been repeatedly postponed.
  • Ronald Gasser Road Rage Case (2016): Ronald Gasser, involved in a road rage incident, shot and killed former NFL player Joe McKnight. While this case happened in Louisiana, it gained national attention and stirred conversation around Stand Your Ground laws across states, including Florida. Gasser was convicted of manslaughter in 2018.
  • Pedro Roteta Killing (2021): In a controversial application of the law, Miami resident Andres Avalos shot and killed Pedro Roteta, who was fleeing from Avalos’s yard with a stolen bicycle part. Avalos shot Roteta from 70 feet away, killing him. Despite the possibility of retreat, Avalos was not initially charged due to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Elusive Accountability

Furthermore, the law poses significant hurdles to law enforcement agencies. Individuals invoking self-defense under this law are granted immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action, making it difficult for police and prosecutors to hold perpetrators responsible. The onus is on them to present irrefutable evidence demonstrating that the use of force was unwarranted.

Sliding towards Vigilantism

Lastly, the “Stand Your Ground” law potentially paves the way for vigilantism. It challenges the paradigm of law enforcement as the primary guardian of public safety and encourages citizens to execute justice themselves. This raises the specter of a society where aggression and fear eclipse peaceful dialogue and mutual understanding, undermining the fundamental tenets of a civilized community.

Florida Gun Violence Facts

If you are not convinced yet that the lax gun laws that Florida possesses is problematic, here are some facts that should solidify the argument:

  • Disturbing Rates of Gun Violence: As a tragic testament to the severity of the issue, Florida often stands among the states with the most significant gun violence burden. In 2019 alone, Florida reported 1,555 firearm deaths, ranking it 26th in the nation, a far cry from a position of safety.
  • Firearm Homicides: The specter of firearm-related homicides looms large over Florida. According to the CDC data, Florida recorded a firearm homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000 residents in 2019, a frightening figure that underscores the urgency of the matter.
  • Domestic Violence and Firearms: A deadly synergy often arises from the mixture of domestic violence and guns. With laws enabling easy access to firearms without mandatory comprehensive background checks, those with a history of domestic violence can too often turn disputes into fatal encounters.
  • Infamous Mass Shootings: The Sunshine State, unfortunately, bears the scars of several notorious mass shootings, including the Pulse Nightclub shooting, which claimed 49 lives in 2016, and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, where 17 individuals tragically lost their lives in 2018. Statista reports that Florida ranks number 3 in the highest amount of overall mass shootings from 1982 to April 2023. The ranking changes yearly, and Florida consistently stays within the top 5 of the highest-ranking states with the most mass shootings.
  • Impact of the Stand Your Ground Law: Following the introduction of the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005, Florida witnessed a startling 24% increase in monthly homicide rates and a 32% increase in firearm-related homicides, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Critics suggest the law fosters an environment of impunity, thus exacerbating gun violence.
  • Unrestricted Gun Ownership: Florida’s lax gun laws—where no permit is needed to purchase rifles, shotguns, or handguns and no enforced waiting period exists for shotgun or rifle purchases—can be alarmingly conducive to gun violence. And now, with permitless carry, unrestricted access may inadvertently empower potential threats to public safety.
  • Illegal Firearms Trafficking: The state’s permissive gun laws have unintentionally turned Florida into a breeding ground for illegally trafficked firearms. Florida is one of the top “exporter” states for guns found at out-of-state crime scenes, indicating the broader consequences of its relaxed laws.
  • Firearm-Related Suicides: The consequences of easy firearm access are also reflected in the state’s suicide rates. More than 50% of all suicide deaths in Florida involve a firearm, making it a grim contributor to the state’s public health crisis.

Happy 4th of July

Florida’s recent permitless carry law adds a new layer to this matrix of emotion. The essence of independence that we commemorate today is built on principles of liberty and justice. Yet, these principles must harmoniously exist with public safety, respect for life, and a collective sense of responsibility.

Despite its objective of empowering citizens, this new law invites a constellation of risks. It exacerbates an already fraught situation, with the state grappling with disproportionately high gun violence rates. It can transform minor disagreements into lethal encounters, inflate the cloud of fear hanging over public spaces, and impede law enforcement’s ability to keep us safe.

As we move forward, let us not forget that our cherished independence and rights do not exist in a vacuum. They are intertwined with responsibility, with our commitment to uphold our own safety and that of our neighbors, our communities, and our state. It’s a call for us to revisit our policies, to inject them with more caution and wisdom, ensuring that they do not inadvertently foster an environment of violence and fear.

We need to strive to transform every subsequent 4th of July into not just a celebration of our historical independence but also a celebration of a safer, more harmonious Florida. We at SFL Media wish you a safe and happy 4th of July!

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About The Author

Julie Johansson

Educated in Criminal Justice and a true crime junkie. Former mall cop, fur mom and women's rights advocate. I am trying to engage in more important topics and writing is how I connect with my community and the world.

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