By Howard Goodman
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The Travyon Martin case is bringing unusual attention to Florida’s freewheeling gun culture.
“The goal of the gun lobby is to make Florida their armed utopia and spread that mentality nationally,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, according to a Bloomberg News story.
The state’s foremost gun lobbyist put it differently. “I like to think of Florida as first in freedom,” said Marion Hammer, executive director of Unified Sportsmen of Florida, a National Rifle Association affiliate, Bloomberg reported.
The controversial Stand Your Ground law — the reason police say they did not arrest Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman — is far from the only reason some call us the “Gunshine State.”
Goaded by the big-spending National Rifle Association, lawmakers have extended Second Amendment rights far beyond most other states. We’re the home of the nation’s first “shall-issue” law, requiring police to register all eligible applicants for concealed carry permits. We allow employees to bring guns to work so long as the weapons are locked in a car. We prohibit physicians from asking patients if they have a gun in the house.
According to Bloomberg, the NRA has championed 38 laws since Republicans won control of the Florida Legislature in 1999 that expand rights to conceal, possess, display, discharge, sell or transfer firearms.
That has helped put Florida among the 10 states with the laxest gun laws, according to a 2011 scorecard from the Brady Campaign, which advocates gun control.
Bloomberg notes that the Sunshine State’s violent crime has decreased. But gun-related fatalities increased 35 percent from 1999 to 2009, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That’s double the rate of population growth during that time and seven times greater than the national average.”
The Miami Herald lists some of the other effects:
• Florida has about 900,000 licensed concealed weapons carriers, far more than any other state and nearly twice as many as Texas.
• The number of annual applications for concealed gun licenses has grown from 26,800 to 123,000 since 1998 (February was a record month for application requests, with 53,835).
• The number of “justifiable homicides” — typically shooting deaths deemed legal under Stand Your Ground — has tripled in the last seven years.
The Stand Your Ground law, passed in 2005, gives a right to people to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” they are in serious danger, even outside their homes.
Appeals are rising to rescind these laws, because as the Trayvon Martin case and its raucous aftermath are showing, they create, in the words of a New York Times editorial, “an air of legalized mayhem.”
Over the last couple of days, former President Bill Clinton called for a reappraisal of the law and Vice President Joe Biden urged a debate on it. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a broader swipe at the issue, calling it a “disgrace” that “the gun lobby is writing our nation’s gun laws.”
In Washington, the Congressional Black Caucus has introduced a resolution calling on states to repeal Stand Your Ground laws.
“I am tired of burying young black boys,” Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., said on the House floor. Martin lived in Wilson’s district, which stretches from Miami to Hollywood west of US1.