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Florida’s new gun laws unlikely to bring ‘wild, wild west,’ experts say

A person showing a gun in its holster on their waist.
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative
Starting July 1, concealed carry permits will no longer be required in Florida, eliminating the requirement for the training and background check that went with it.

On July 1, permits no longer needed to carry a concealed weapon.

The next time you're in a crowd, look around and consider this: According to data from the state of Florida, nearly 100,000 people in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties – roughly one in 10 – could be legally carrying a concealed gun.

But starting July 1, that number could go higher, though experts say they expect little outward change to daily life.

On that day, a new law will take effect, along with dozens of others approved in the 2023 legislative session, eliminating the requirement for concealed-carry permits, along with the training requirements and background check that go with it.

Some experts say they don't expect the new law to make life more dangerous or significantly increase crime because plenty of people are already permitted or carrying weapons without a permit.

"I think things will be fine here," said Stephen Moyer, a security consultant and former deputy chief of the Sarasota Police Department. "I've talked to a lot of the sheriffs across the state. I have testified up in Tallahassee a couple of times. I don't think we're going to see a big uptick. It's going to be pretty seamless."

Nicholas Chotos, a defense attorney who practices in Manatee County, agreed. "Most people who want a concealed carry permit already have them," he said. "People who want to carry a gun without a permit are already doing it. We're not going to see an uptick in crimes."

Gun control advocates, however, aren't so sure.

"I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see it go up,” said Carol Conyne Rescigno, the president of Brady Sarasota, the local branch of Brady United, which advocates for, among other things, a ban on assault weapons and stricter gun safety laws.

"Road rage, anger-related incidents in general. If you have a gun, you're going to be more apt to use it."

What does the law actually say?

After July 1, the rules for who can legally carry a concealed weapon will not change:

  • You must be a U.S. citizen;
  • You must be at least 21 years of age;
  • You cannot have any felony conviction, misdemeanor charges for domestic violence, or conviction for a crime relating to violence or drug abuse.
  • You must carry a legal ID and must show it on demand by law enforcement.

No permit or training has ever been required to buy a firearm. Current federal and state laws that require a background check for firearm purchases will still apply. Permits will still be available, because occupations such as security guards still require them.

The new law requires guns to be concealed. It is not a constitutional, or "open carry" law, Moyer said. "I think where people will make mistakes is that if they think this is a constitutional open carry. It's not going to turn into the wild, wild West, where you see people walking down Main Street with a gun belt on," he said.

The Community News Collaborative recently sat in on a recent two-hour concealed carry class taught at a Sarasota gun shop.

While the class covered basic handgun safety, most of the time was spent discussing the legal consequences of firing a gun in self-defense, including the likelihood of initial arrest, civil suits and options for liability insurance.

Students' motivation for attending the class included fear and empowerment. None of the students wanted to be identified.

"I want to be prepared if the worst happens," one said.

"Once I have a gun, I feel real freedom," another said.

One concern about the new law -- that training to carry a concealed weapon is no longer required – was voiced by nearly everyone interviewed for this story. More than 2.5 million concealed carry permits are in force statewide across Florida’s 21.8 million population, according to the News Service of Florida.

Carrying a gun without considering the legal ramifications of using it is "a foolish decision," Chotos said. "There's always a chance people will discharge a firearm and think they're covered," by a stand-your-ground defense, when that may not be the case, he said.

Moyer added that training is just common sense. "I think people have the right to protect themselves. But if you're going to protect yourself, get trained.

“I've been working in public safety, law enforcement work for 40 years. I go to the range on a regular basis.”

Rescigno agreed, saying the new law lays the responsibility at the gun owner's feet. "There are certainly people who are very, very trained on their guns and they would not dream of going out without being trained on their guns. So, we would implore all gun owners to take that on," she said.

By the numbers

Concealed-carry permits in selected counties:

  • DeSoto: 3,723
  • Manatee: 41,200
  • Sarasota: 52,055

Source: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Licensing

This story is courtesy of the Community News Collaborative, made possible by a grant from Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation. You can reach Jim DeLa at jdela@cncfl.org

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