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No Fire, Not Even Smoke, In Violence Policy Center`s Whine About Right To Carry

Thursday, July 29, 1999

"Concealed Carry: The Criminal`s Companion" was an attempt, by a tiny anti-gun group that calls itself the Violence Policy Center (VPC), to derail the right-to-carry movement currently sweeping across the United States. It sought to discourage passage of statewide Right to Carry (RTC)laws by disparaging Florida`s model carry law, in effect since 1987.

The success of RTC laws -- Florida`s in particular -- was well known to legislators and the general public. According to the most recent data available from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports at the time of the VPC attack, states with RTC laws had significantly lower overall violent and firearm-related violent crime per capita rates than other states:

Violent crime rate -- 22% lower Robbery rate -- 36% lower
Firearm violent crime rate -- 29% lower Firearm robbery rate -- 38% lower
Homicide rate -- 31% lower Aggravated assault rate -- 14% lower
Firearm homicide rate -- 38% lower Firearm aggravated assault rate-- 19% lower
Handgun homicide rate -- 41% lower

Florida`s homicide and handgun homicide rates had dropped 22% and29% since adopting RTC in 1987, even as national rates had risen 15% and 50%. Anti-gun groups often try to malign Florida`s RTC law by noting that its total violent crime rate has increased since the law took effect, but an examination of violent crime data only supported RTC advocates` arguments -- since 1987, Florida`s violent crime rate had risen less (17.7%) than the U.S. as a whole (22.3%), and only 30% of Florida`s violent crimes involved firearms.

Florida`s law relates only to the legality of carrying firearms already lawfully possessed; it has nothing to do with facilitating the acquisition or ownership of firearms by anyone. Therefore, the VPC`s primary assertion -- that Florida`s carry law "puts guns into the hands of criminals" -- was preposterous on its face and only served to discredit the group.

VPC claimed that "criminals do apply for concealed carry licenses." But while criminals occasionally apply for licenses, Florida rejects their applications, just as banks regularly reject loan applications from persons with bad credit ratings.

Through Sept. 30, 1995, Florida had rejected the carry license applications of 702 persons with criminal records. Surprisingly, the VPC even underscored this fact, by including in its "study" a long list of persons alleged to have criminal records who, after their carry license applications were rejected, wanted their rejections reconsidered.

As required by the law, Florida`s licensing division quickly revokes licenses mistakenly issued to disqualified individuals. Florida had revoked 188 licenses mistakenly issued to persons with criminal records. Therefore, the VPC`s statement, that persons with criminal records occasionally receive licenses, was but half the story.

Florida`s Secretary of State, Sandra B. Mortham rejected the VPC`s allegations, blaming them on the group`s "zeal to attack the National Rifle Association." To "set the record straight," Secretary Mortham stated that "As of November 30, 1995, the Department had denied 723 applications due to criminal history. The fact that these 723 individuals did not receive a license clearly indicates that the process is working." Secretary Mortham added, "the statistics show the majority of concealed weapon or firearm licensees are honest, law-abiding citizens exercising their right to be armed for the purpose of lawful self-defense." (Letter to the St. Petersburg Times, January 11, 1996.)

The overwhelming majority of license applicants and those to whom licenses had been issued were law-abiding citizens. From the law`s inception, through Sept. 30, 1995, of 310,892 applications received, only 1,256 -- 0.4% -- had been rejected for reasons of criminal histories. Further, citizens to whom carry licenses had been issued had proven themselves to be more law-abiding than the public generally. Of 303,213 licenses issued, only 52 -- 0.017% -- had been revoked because license holders committed firearm-related crimes, including those occurring in situations in which a carry license would not have been required to have a gun present. John Russi, of Florida`s Division of Licensing, said of the 52 disqualified licensees, "When you compare that to the number of licenses that were issued, that`s very small." In a official correspondence to the governor, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, James T. Moore, said, "From a law enforcement perspective, the licensing process has not resulted in problems in the community from people arming themselves with concealed weapons. The strict provisions of 790.06, Florida Statutes, preclude the licensing of convicted felons, etc., thus allowing the permitting of law abiding citizens who do not routinely commit crimes or otherwise violate the law."

The VPC has since continued its practice of releasing flawed "studies," but with similarly mixed results. In 1997, the group attacked NRA`s Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program only to be lambasted in newspapers normally supportive of severe restrictions on the right to arms. In 1998, the group attacked Texas` successful firearm carrying law, only to be similarly rebuked by state officials. The group`s tactics come as no surprise, given the ethics of its leader, Josh Sugarmann. In 1988, Sugarmann authored "Assault Weapons in America," a primer on that issue for anti-gun activists, which suggested: "[T]he issue of handgun restriction remains a non-issue with the vast majority of legislators, the press, and public. . . . Assault weapons . . . are a new topic. The weapons` menacing looks, coupled with the public`s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons -- anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun -- can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons."

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