Freedom from fear should be every person's birthright, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said. But that is not to be in Ron DeSantis' Florida.
The governor goes on a lot about freedom, but with him it means sacrificing public health and safety to self-indulgence. First it was the freedom to forgo masks and vaccines in the face of a lethal pandemic. Now it means freedom to carry a concealed weapon almost everywhere without having to obtain a permit after a background check and safety training.
DeSantis' proposed gift to the gun lobby, House Bill 543, would make Florida a much more dangerous place in which to live or visit, work or play.
HB 543 would have no hope in a responsible legislature. But in Florida, its passage is already greased by House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.
Backed by some Florida sheriffs, Renner called permitless carry "a God-given right." Passidomo previously sounded less enthusiastic, suggesting the idea should go to a statewide referendum. "Let the voters decide," she said last May on a southwest Florida podcast. But the pressure to bend to DeSantis once again probably cannot be overcome.
Extensive data from the Center for American Progress foretells the dire consequences in Florida. Among the findings:
- Permitless carry is legal in some form in 26 states. A study posted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that this led to a 29% increase in violent firearm crime, a 13% rise in gun homicides, a 32% increase in armed robbery, a 35% increase in gun thefts and a 13% decline in violent crime clearance rates.
- Firearm homicide rates overall are higher, 11% on average, in states with more permissive laws.
- Amid a national increase in road rage, the five states with the highest rates (per population) of armed incidents are the right-to-carry states of New Mexico, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Florida already trails only Texas in the number of road rage incidents involving firearms — 304 in the four years ending in 2021.
Two men were charged with attempted murder in October after firing on each other's cars on I-95 near Jacksonville. They wounded each other's daughters, who survived.
"What is scarier than one crazy driver with a gun?" said the local sheriff, Bill Leeper. "Two crazy drivers with a gun. There could have been two dead kids because of two stupid grown men."
What's scarier is HB 543, which could be a preview of open carry, in which permitless gun owners can openly display firearms. Polls have shown that most Americans favor background checks for private gun sales and at gun shows.
The bill could scarcely have been announced at a worse time, just two weeks before the five-year anniversary of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Parkland alumnus who helped to pass gun reforms as a Florida legislator five years ago, denounced the current legislation. "This proposal is about politics. It's 'Political Carry' and they know it," he said.
Obtaining concealed carry permits is not burdensome. Florida has already issued 2.6 million of them. The requirement protects society by requiring proof of firearms training and a background check to exclude convicted felons and other people with certain legal disqualifications.
HB 543 waives the background check and the required training, though permits would still be available so gun owners could legally carry concealed weapons in other states that require permits. Disqualifications would still apply, but without any practical way to know who's carrying a weapon illegally.
The legislation does not appear to add or detract from the list of official places, such as schools, courthouses and the Legislature itself, where weapons are forbidden. It simply makes the entire state more dangerous.
It's an unacceptable price with unknown consequences, and all for DeSantis' transparent presidential ambitions.