Florida assailed over firearm laws

SANFORD, Fla. — The night Trayvon Martin was shot to death, George Zimmerman was one of 1,903 residents in his ZIP code with a permit to carry a concealed handgun, state records show.

That amounts to about 6% of adults 21 and older — about the statewide average, and twice the rate of Texas.

Taking guns to work, church and elsewhere in Florida has become widespread in the last 25 years. With nearly 920,000 active concealed-weapons permits, the Sunshine State is home to almost as many gun dealers as its 2,300 citrus farms, according to state and federal records.

Clearly, many Floridians have embraced their 2nd Amendment rights. But the state has come under fire by gun-control groups, which blame Martin’s death on Florida’s “stand your ground” law and lenient firearms rules.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence cites the unarmed teenager’s death as a reason to oppose a nationwide effort to let permit-holders carry their handguns in all 50 states. Floridians can now travel armed in 32 other states.

“We’re heartbroken about this tragedy, but we’re not surprised it happened in Florida,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign. “The gun lobby has worked very hard to make Florida its armed utopia with a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality.”

Former National Rifle Assn. President Marion Hammer, the lobbyist behind the Florida Legislature’s passage of the nation’s first “stand your ground” law in 2005, would not speak about the shooting but accused gun-control advocates of exploiting Martin’s death.

“They let no tragedy go unused. They trample on tragedies for political advantage and political gain,” she said. “There is an investigation going on. Nobody knows what the facts are, and it’s inappropriate to make comments at this time.”

Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer, called police the evening of Feb. 26 to report Martin as a suspicious person. He followed the 17-year-old against the dispatcher’s recommendation. An altercation ensued and Zimmerman shot Martin to death in what he says was self-defense. He has not been charged, but state and federal authorities are investigating the shooting.

Under Florida’s concealed-carry law, residents don’t have to explain why they want to carry a gun or demonstrate they can hit a target.

Applicants must pass a criminal background check and a class lasting up to four hours on self-defense law, safe gun handling and marksmanship.

Some states set stricter requirements.

In Texas, applicants must pass a 10- to 15-hour class and a timed shooting test with a minimum score of 70% while firing 50 shots over three distances.

Texas has about 6 million more residents than Florida but half as many concealed-weapons permits, according to records from the Texas Department of Public Safety. Texas’ 461,724 permits amount to one for every 37 adults.

In Florida, about one of every 17 adults has a permit.

California, twice as populous as Florida, has just 38,122 active concealed-weapons permits, according to the state attorney general’s office. That’s one for every 688 adults.

hcurtis@tribune.com