With Florida’s Legislative Session only days away, one of the hottest issues to face lawmakers this year is Open Carry.
Two bills (SB 300/HB 163) filed by the Republican father-son tag team of State Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, would allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry a gun “any place that a person has the right to be, subject only to exceptionally and narrowly tailored restrictions that employ the least possible restriction on the right” to bear arms.
Few can predict how the Gaetz’s bill, if passed, would play out in Florida. Luckily, a real life example is now under way in Texas, which enacted similar Open Carry legislation last year. The law went into effect New Year’s Day.
Undoubtedly, Florida lawmakers, prosecutors and law enforcement will be watching the Lone Star State. And, hopefully, they will be taking careful notes, particularly of the immense confusion building in Texas over where gun-toting residents can and can’t carry weapons.
For example, Morgan Smith of The Texas Tribune writes that while nearly 826,000 firearm license holders can now openly carry with a hip or shoulder holster, “law enforcement officials, city leaders and business owners are bracing for lawsuits.”
In passing its landmark Open Carry law, Smith writes that state officials “largely left interpretation of the new law, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in June, up to local authorities.”
That means all the state’s 254 counties will each determine how (or when) police can ask to see an individual’s permit. Probable cause comes into play, according to Kevin Laurence of the Texas Municipal Police Association.
“There is a difference of opinion about whether or not just the mere fact that someone is walking down Main Street carrying a pistol in a holster is sufficient probable cause for a police officer to insist on seeing their handgun permit,” Laurence told the Tribune. “We are going to wind up having to get court cases out of this defining exactly what authority police officers have.”
Another matter complicating the situation for government entities is by way of a second Texas law passed in 2015, which imposes fines local officials who wrongly ban handguns in public places.
Also, businesses are being forced to choose between allowing open carry of handguns — making some patrons very uncomfortable — or prohibit guns altogether and face the wrath of gun rights activists.
Smith points to the San Antonio-based Whataburger fast-food chain, which announced it would not allow open carry in any of its restaurants. Responding to threats of a boycott by Second Amendment advocates, Whataburger CEO Preston Atkinson released a public statement on the company website explaining the decision, made before the law’s passage, was from a “business standpoint.”
“We’re the gathering spot for Little League teams, church groups and high school kids after football games,” Atkinson’s statement says. “We’ve had many customers and employees tell us they’re uncomfortable being around someone with a visible firearm who is not a member of law enforcement, and as a business, we have to listen and value that feedback.”
It would not take much to imagine the numerous similar situations coming as a result of the passage of an Open Carry law in the Sunshine State.
On a lighter gun-related note, a new video from Mashable shows three kids — a 5-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old — taking the Michigan handgun test, an amazingly simple “true or false” exam.
With no prior study, two of the kids passed.
See the video below.