Matt Gaetz: Senate should let debate begin on open carry

The organizing principle of my public service is Constitutional liberty. If government constrains itself to the Constitution, free markets, free enterprise and free people can thrive.

Otherwise, we get catastrophic consequences like Obamacare, lawless executive orders and a government that (often corruptly) picks winners and losers.

In a world of uncertainty, the Second Amendment to the Constitution is undeniably clear: The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Today, Florida is one of only five states infringing on the rights of citizens to “openly carry” handguns. That’s right. Open carry is legal in various forms in 45 other states.

Florida joins California, New York, Illinois and (oddly) South Carolina as the only states to totally prohibit open carry. Thirty states do not require a license, while 15 do.

Weeks ago the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill I authored allowing Floridians with concealed carry permits to openly carry in a holster. It was a bipartisan 80-36 vote.

The bill was endorsed by the Florida Police Chief’s Association, Unified Sportsmen of Florida and the National Rifle Association. The Florida Chamber of Commerce helped draft provisions to allow private property owners to prohibit open carry if they choose.

Then, the Senate Judiciary chairman killed it. He refused to even allow a vote on open carry, likely because the bill would have passed. No one senator should have the right to unilaterally block critical legislation from even having a vote — especially when constitutional rights are involved.

There is no constitutional, statistical or rational basis to disallow open carry in Florida. According to U.S. Department of Justice data, in open carry states you are:

  • 23 percent less likely to be the victim of violent crime
  • 5 percent less likely to be murdered
  • 38 percent less likely to be the victim of armed robbery, and
  • 23 percent less likely to be the victim of aggravated assault.

Open carry is not a utopian solution to violence. Many factors affect crime rates. But, reasonable people cannot disagree on the statistical fact that open carry does not increase violence.

I find it compelling that concealed carry permit holders are remarkably law-abiding. According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime data, permit holders are six times less likely to commit crimes … than law enforcement officers.

If I am elected to serve in the Senate next year, I’ll again file much needed open-carry legislation. I’ll also pursue changes to Senate rules to allow for more transparent debate on the issues facing Florida.

Florida should be an open carry state. The Florida Senate should let the debate begin. I’m ready for it.


Matthew “Matt” Gaetz is a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing the 4th District, which includes most of Okaloosa County. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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