Pro-gun laws flourish in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., brought an avalanche of criticism directed at Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Yet the controversial 2005 law was just one of dozens of pro-gun laws that have gotten their start in Florida — forging the state’s “Gunshine” reputation — before spreading to other parts of the country.

The powerful National Rifle Association has lobbied for passage of such laws.

The “stand your ground” law — at the center of police’s decision not to arrest shooter George Zimmerman in the Martin case — has become one of the state’s most severely criticized statutes, in the wake of national protests over Martin’s death Feb. 26. Newspaper editorial boards, cable-news anchors, police detectives and politicians across the country have lambasted Florida for its law, which has spread to 24 other states.

Gov. Rick Scott is creating a task force to take a second look at the law, which allows people who feel threatened to use deadly force.

From bring-your-guns-to-work laws to all-out bans on local gun restrictions, Florida has become a haven for Second Amendment enthusiasts. Statistics show the pro-gun agenda has triggered more gun sales, more permits and a sharp rise in justifiable homicides.

• Florida has about 900,000 licensed concealed-weapons carriers, far more than any other state and nearly twice as many as Texas.

• The number of annual applications for concealed-gun licenses has grown from 26,800 to 123,000 since 1998. (February was a record month for application requests, with 53,835.)

• The number of “justifiable homicides” — typically shooting deaths deemed legal under “stand your ground” — has tripled in the last seven years.

A representative for the NRA, which has given millions of dollars in political donations, did not respond to requests for comment. Florida’s top NRA lobbyist, Marion Hammer, declined to comment, citing “media bias and slant” against gun rights.

To be sure, even as gun rights and ownership have expanded, most of the tragic scenarios predicted by opponents of gun rights have not played out. However, murders by firearm have increased 45 percent since 1999, despite an overall drop in violent crime, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Police reports show that Zimmerman used a Kel Tec 9 mm gun in the Martin shooting. Manufactured by Florida-based manufacturer Kel Tec CNC, the semiautomatic weapon is a popular choice for gun owners, selling for about $350.

Zimmerman was licensed to have the gun despite a prior arrest for assault on a law-enforcement officer and domestic-battery complaints. Unlike states that allow police to deny license applications based on personal character and arrest history, Florida is a place where almost anyone who hasn’t been convicted of a violent crime can qualify for a concealed-weapons license.

In 1987, Florida became the nation’s first so-called “shall issue” state, creating a model for 36 states that now require police to license all eligible applicants for concealed-carry permits.

The NRA was behind a 2008 law that allows employees to bring guns to work, so long as they’re locked in the car. Several businesses, like the politically well-connected Disney, have long held a “no-guns-at-work” policy for employees. Business groups predicted the law would lead to an increase in workplace massacres and sued to block it. The bill passed the House 74-42, survived the lawsuit, and has not yet bred an “I-told-you-so” tragedy.

In 2009 and 2010, lawmakers passed “gag order” laws, forbidding doctors and adoption agencies from questioning patients or prospective parents about their gun ownership. Doctors are fighting the NRA-backed law in court.

Even those who don’t live in the state are benefiting from Florida’s gun-rights expansions. Florida is one of only two states that allow nonresidents to obtain mail-order gun licenses.

In general, attempts to crack down on gun ownership have floundered in the Republican-controlled Legislature, although lawmakers have increased penalties for gun-toting criminals.

Penalties have also increased for anyone who offends the rights of gun owners. Several gun-rights bills are laced with punitive language and strict penalties. Under the so-called “docs-vs.-glocks” gag-order law, doctors who ask their patients if they own a gun could lose their license to practice medicine.

County commissioners that try to regulate gun use could be personally fined $5,000 or removed from office by the governor.

Municipalities that keep records of gun owners can be fined up to $5 million. Florida statutes require state attorneys to take up the case of offended gun owners and to “vigorously prosecute violators,” invoking language normally reserved for child sex offenders and violent criminals.