Every now and then, someone comes up with an idea that seems so obviously flawed that others are puzzled that it is even considered. YouTube is full of videos that illustrate this strange phenomenon, as people do absolutely crazy things (on camera, no less) that any reasonably rationale person would consider . . . well, crazy.
That’s how I feel about HB 209, expected to be voted on by the Florida House of Representatives today.
The primary purpose of the bill, in a nutshell, is to make it lawful for an individual to carry a concealed weapon, including a concealed firearm, even if otherwise not permitted to carry it concealed, provided he or she is “in the act of complying with a mandatory evacuation order.”
Most of the attention to the bill has been focused on the firearm provision (the bill has the strong support of the NRA, which cares little about knives and other weapons). It has been presented as an effort to protect “your right to bears [sic] arms when you need them most.”
The idea, apparently, is that if one must flee a hurricane or a wild fire or some other disaster, natural or human-made, one needs to take one’s gun along . . . on one’s person.
I get this in part. Evacuations and disasters can foster lawlessness (think about looters after the hurricane hits). During and immediately after a major disaster, the ability of police in the disaster area to maintain order can be profoundly stressed, and social order can (and sometimes does) break down. I can understand a desire to provide individuals and families with the means to protect themselves under such conditions . . . whether or not I believe that a gun would be the best way to do so.
But notice what the law applies to . . . not those who have stayed in the disaster area, but those who are evacuating. Not those who will be in the environment where law and order is most likely to be under great stress, but those who have gone inland, or north, to communities that are not expected to be subject to serious disaster. That’s why we evacuate, right?
So . . . why do I need to be able to carry my handgun under my jacket when I’m out of harm’s way?
This concern could be remedied by defining what it means to be “in the act of complying with a mandatory evacuation order.” On my way from Redington Shores to Kissimmee ahead of a Category 4 storm, maybe I’m at risk and maybe I need extra protection. But once I’m in Kissimmee, is my stay at the hotel or the house of a friend part of my “compliance” with the evacuation order, or not? I’m only there because I had to evacuate, and I’ll be going back home as soon as I can. Can I carry a concealed weapon that whole time?
There’s probably a logical answer that could be articulated here: no. But in the absence of such an answer in the law, I guess I can carry my concealed gun, even though I don’t have a concealed weapons permit, while I shop in the grocery store and sit in the park in Kissimmee awaiting the “all clear” to go home.
It is worth remembering that, while there are some folks who cannot own a gun in Florida, the presumption is that one can. One doesn’t have to have a permit, or a license. Under HB 209, if an officer sees the grip of my Glock when my jacket flaps or my shirt bulges awkwardly, he or she has no authority to do anything if I’m in the process of evacuating . . . or could reasonably claim to be.
Which is where this gets particularly scary.
So I live in an evacuation zone, and I’m going to go to my local storm shelter to ride out the storm. I take my gun with me. But actually, what I want to do is some shaking down of other evacuees. I’ve got a gun concealed on my person. I can pull it out at need to impress my seriousness upon other evacuees. Of course, the law doesn’t allow me to do that. That’s a felony. I’m using a firearm in the commission of a felony. I’m in trouble.
But what if I confront someone to shake them down, and they confront back. Now I’m feeling threatened. This person might just beat the tar out of me. But I have my concealed weapon (which, under other circumstances, I wouldn’t have the right to carry in this public place). So I can pull it out and kill him or her, standing my ground in an altercation of my own making.
What can I, the one who was the first to threaten, the one who otherwise didn’t have a right to carry a concealed weapon, be charged with and convicted of?
So far as I can tell, nothing.
We don’t even need people intent on criminal activity. Tempers flare and nerves are frayed in the face of a disaster. Does adding extra bullets and gun powder to the scene make things safer . . . or less safe?
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has no uncertainty on that point at all: “The bill is crazy. It’s absurd.”
Maybe something is needed to allow evacuees to transport their weapons somehow. Maybe.
But certainly when a bill is so vague that it might well give aid and comfort to looters and thugs, one ought to take the time to boil those implications out of the measure before putting it up for a vote.