Column Date 2008-04-19

Living in Florida without a gun

Remember the old redneck joke about driving your pickup truck down South and being pulled over by the sheriff?

"Sir, you don't seem to have a rifle rack in your truck. Can you tell us why not?"

Welcome to Florida, or, as some might call it, the "Wild East".

Six million Floridians own guns, according to the NRA, and over 500,000 have concealed weapons permits.

And now there's a new law, just signed by Governor Charlie Crist, that allows employees to carry concealed weapons in their cars when they drive into a company parking lot.

Even if the company's CEO thinks guns are dangerous and refuses to tolerate them anyplace near the office, he doesn't have a choice anymore. ("You're really firing me, boss!? Hang on, I have to get something from my car...")
Florida is also the state that recently passed a "Stand Your Ground" law – which prosecutors and police chiefs call the "Shoot the Avon Lady" law.

Simply put, the law says you're entitled to use deadly force "when threatened". So if you see a dark figure on your front porch late at night and you feel threatened, out comes your weapon, and there goes a neighborhood kid, or a lost pizza delivery man, or perhaps a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses.

And if you get into an angry argument with some guy over a parking place, you no longer have to back off and try to cool things down, as civilized people would. You just unsnap your holster and go from there.

This six-shooter mentality makes me nervous.

You see, I don't own a gun, even though it's not particularly hard to buy one here. (To get a concealed weapons permit, you can take a two hour course at your local gun show, fire one shot at a target, and fork over $117 to the State of Florida. That's it.)

So these days, as I walk down the street, I can't help wondering which of my fellow citizens is "carrying".

Does that man in the clown suit, handing out flyers for a local fast food joint, have a handgun hidden in those baggy pants, just in case someone starts hassling him?

Does the fellow at the next table, staring at my NY Yankees baseball cap, have a pistol in his jacket pocket?

And how about the red-faced guy who just cut me off in his BMW, and is now getting out of his car and screaming at me? What's that in his hand?

If you think I'm being paranoid, listen to this:

Not long ago, a man in Clearwater was shot by his neighbor after an argument over how many bags of garbage he could put out. He had put out eight bags, his neighbor said he was only allowed to put out six.

The shooter was not arrested.

"Real Men" in Florida pack heat.

As for the rest of us, I guess we're just targets of opportunity.

©2008 Peter Tannen