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Court urged to kill ban on open gun carry in Florida

Florida’s law requiring concealed weapons permit holders to keep their guns under wraps violates the constitutional right to bear arms, the state Supreme Court was told Wednesday.

In arguments during which the term “Wild West” was freely tossed about, Eric Friday, attorney for Florida Carry, said the state’s almost 30-year-old law should be overturned by justices.

Almost 1.8 million Floridians have such permits — the most of any state.

Friday told the court that the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment doesn’t stop states from regulating the use of weapons. But the concealed weapons law crafted by the state Legislature creates an illegal intrusion.

“What they’ve done here is they’ve taken it a step beyond just regulating the manner to bear arms,” Friday said. “They’ve actually denied the right to bear arms until a person seeks and obtains government permission.”

Friday said the impact on the Second Amendment is akin to having a law making photojournalists obtain a permit to get a camera. He said that would spark outrage as a clear violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

“Yeah, but I don’t think journalists’ cameras kill people,” Chief Justice Jorge Labarga said.

The challenge stems from the 2012 arrest in Fort Pierce of Dale Norman, a concealed weapons permit holder who walked down a city street with his gun openly displayed in a holster.

He was arrested and a jury found Norman guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor charge that was upheld by a panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach.

The appeals court found the law did not “destroy the core right of self-defense enshrined in the Second Amendment” and also in the Florida Constitution.

Justice Ricky Polston asked Friday to describe regulations that he saw as constitutionally permissible. Polston asked if the state could craft a law allowing open carry – but requiring those displaying guns to meet certain standards.

Concealed weapons permit holders currently must be at least age 21, show competency with a firearm, and have a clean criminal record.

The Florida House approved a measure this year allowing permit-holders to openly display their firearms. But the measure failed in the Florida Senate when Judiciary Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, declined to schedule the open-carry bill for a hearing.

Friday said Wednesday that some state oversight might be possible as long as gun carriers, “have a constitutional right to not have to seek government permission.”

Several justices, however, expressed concerns about what Florida might look like without a concealed weapons law.

Although Friday said that states with open-carry have not had people sparking havoc by walking around with weapons, Justice Peggy Quince wasn’t convinced such action wouldn’t cause a problem in Florida.

“What people do and what people can do are two different things,” she said.

Assistant Attorney General Heidi Bettendorf argued in defense of the law, saying the Legislature has banned open carry for public safety purposes and to reduce the spread of firearms.

She said that is a “policy decision” by lawmakers.

“But in this context, the fact that it is a policy decision that has an impact on the Second Amendment right … there has to be some kind of justification for it,” said Justice Charles Canady.

Friday said that lawmakers are wrong to impose restrictions on the public, based on fear of what might happen.

“We don’t regulate the behavior and conduct of law-abiding citizens based on what criminals might take from them, and we shouldn’t do so in this case,” he said.

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