Concealed Carry: The Criminal's Companion
Florida's Concealed Weapons Law--A Model for the Nation?
This executive summary is taken from the November 1995 study Concealed Carry: The Criminals Companion. For a copy of the complete study, please send a check or money order for $10.00 to the Violence Policy Center, 1730 Rhode Island Ave NW, Suite 1014, Washington, DC, 20036.
In state legislatures across the country, pitched battles are being waged to relax laws regarding the carrying of concealed handguns. During the 1994—1995 legislative session, states that passed relaxed "carrying concealed weapons" or "CCW" laws included Texas, Virginia, and Utah. Other states, including Illinois and California, rejected them. Meanwhile, the battle over such laws continues in Michigan, Ohio, and other states. In every state, however, proponents of relaxed concealed carry laws, led by the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), hold up the state of Florida's concealed weapons law as a model to be replicated throughout the nation. This study examines how the Florida law actually functions and arrives at an inescapable conclusion: Florida's concealed weapons law puts guns into the hands of criminals.
The NRA rests its arguments in favor of relaxed concealed weapons laws on three articles of faith: criminals do not apply for concealed carry licenses; criminals do not receive concealed carry licenses; and, concealed carry license holders do not commit crimes. Yet, a review of records obtained by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) from the Florida Division of Licensing and the state's Board of Executive Clemency reveals that:
Criminals do apply for concealed carry licenses. Section I of the study reveals that hundreds of criminals—convicted of crimes ranging from firearm violations to kidnapping and aggravated rape—have applied for concealed carry licenses in Florida.As of July 1995 a total of 469 individuals have been identified as having committed a wide variety of crimes—including assault with intent to murder, kidnapping/attempted kidnapping, and shooting with intent to wound—either before obtaining the Florida concealed carry license or after licensure.
Until 1987, Florida, like most states, had a discretionary system for issuing concealed carry licenses, commonly referred to as "may-issue" licensing. Under such systems, state authorities such as a county sheriff, judge, or local police official retain discretion as to whom to grant the license. In 1987, as the result of a campaign by the NRA and its Florida affiliate, the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, the Florida legislature enacted a non-discretionary system under which state authorities must provide a concealed carry license to any applicant who meets specific criteria. Such systems are commonly known as "shall-issue" licensing.
The criteria to obtain a license under Florida's concealed weapons law are minimal. The state is required to grant a concealed carry license within 90 days to any qualified adult who has taken a firearms safety or training course and does not possess a disqualifying trait. Such traits include: a history of drug or alcohol abuse; any felony conviction; adjudication withheld on a felony charge; some misdemeanor convictions involving violence; state commitment for mental illness; or physical inability to use a gun. In addition to firearms training documentation, the following is required for first-time applicants: a fingerprint check, photograph, $117 fee, review of Florida statutes relating to weapons and firearms, and a completed application. Unless a violation occurs, the license is valid for three years.
Florida's concealed weapons law delineates eligibility for applicants with a criminal record based on the crime committed and its disposition. Individuals who have been convicted of a state felony are ineligible to receive a concealed carry license unless their civil rights and firearm authority have been restored by the Florida Office of Executive Clemency. Individuals who have had adjudication withheld on a felony charge, and some persons convicted of one or more violent misdemeanors, are ineligible to receive a concealed carry license unless three years have elapsed since completion of any conditions set by the court or their record has been sealed or expunged. In addition, individuals guilty of crimes related to controlled substances or who have chronically and habitually abused alcoholic beverages or other substances within three years of their application are ineligible.
Since 1987, more than 206,400 Floridians have applied for new concealed carry licenses. As of July 31, 1995, 200,241 have received them.
The NRA's greatest success in lobbying for looser concealed weapons laws has been through framing the issue in terms of self-defense against crime. Yet the NRA has not been able to offer much in the way of hard evidence to support its assertion that armed citizens make for a safer society.
Recent numbers from Dade County, Florida do not offer a comforting picture. According to information first reported in U.S. News & World Report, the Metro-Dade Police Department tracked 63 incidents involving concealed carry license holders in a five-year period (1987 to 1992) after the law went into effect; 25 incidents involved arrests. The 25 arrest incidents included such crimes as: aggravated assault with a firearm, aggravated battery with a firearm, reckless display and discharging a firearm in public, armed trespass, and cocaine possession. Despite the arrests, in at least 12 of the 25 cases the arrestee was able to retain his concealed carry license—including one incident in which an armed license holder was arrested for misdemeanor battery on his spouse. The remaining 38 non-arrest incidents included: four accidental shootings (resulting in two injuries); three cases in which the license holder's gun was stolen; two cases of unauthorized carrying in restricted areas; and six disputes that escalated to the point where a gun was pulled. A review of the Dade County information reveals that in a broad sense 16 of the 63 incidents could be classified as attempts at defense of person or property, or efforts to intercede during the commission of a crime. And while there do appear to be legitimate self-defense uses detailed by the Metro-Dade police, in many of the 16 incidents the actual threat is unclear, possession of a concealed carry license may not have been necessary (because the license holder did not leave his or her home), or it is unclear whether the license holder was legally justified in brandishing or firing the weapon. (Please see Appendix One of the full study for the complete list of incidents.)
Relaxed concealed carry laws offer financial benefits to all members of the gun lobby. For the firearms industry they offer the opportunity to increase the sale of handguns and such accessories as holsters and holster-purses. In the April 1995 issue of the industry newsletter Firearms Business, Gene Lumsden, Interarms, Inc. marketing vice president, "called the increased number of states considering carry laws the 'most important star on the horizon. Both in terms of sales and our freedoms....'" From the NRA's perspective, concealed carry training requirements offer NRA-approved firearm instructors a new pool of students (and increased recruitment opportunities for the organization.)
Finally, the Florida law allows individuals with lengthy criminal histories access to concealed carry permits. Section IV of the study explains how the Florida system offers distinct advantages to criminals who have plea-bargained their cases.
The NRA vigorously touts relaxed concealed carry laws as a mechanism to arm law-abiding citizens against predatory criminals. And in each state where it battles to "reform" concealed carry laws the organization points to Florida as proof that such laws work. The Violence Policy Center's analysis of how Florida's concealed weapons law actually operates reveals the NRA's faith in it to be, at best, misplaced.
Section I: Criminals Do Apply for Concealed Carry Licenses
[E]xperience shows that only honest citizens are willing to submit to the permitting process, the background check, and the training requirements to receive a permit.National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action
Between October 1, 1987 and July 31, 1995, 691 Florida concealed carry applicants were denied licensure due to a criminal history. The VPC reviewed 22 of the denials (Please see Chart A) filed between October 1, 1987 and May 31, 1995—those in which the applicant requested a public hearing. (More detailed descriptions of some of the incidents detailed in Chart A are offered in Section I of the full study.)
Section II: Criminals Do Receive Concealed Carry Licenses
Florida's system trusts the people, and Florida citizens have proven themselves responsible and worthy of that trust.NRA First Vice President Marion Hammer
How Criminals Illegitimately Obtain Concealed Carry Licenses
Criminals illegitimately obtain licenses by denying criminal histories on license applications. The Florida data shows that of the 549 revocation records filed by the Florida Division of Licensing between October 1, 1987 and May 31, 1995, 167 were against individuals who had committed crimes prior to licensure. For these 167 cases, the VPC obtained the records for the 63 revocations (please see Chart B) where public hearings were conducted. (More detailed descriptions of some of the incidents detailed in Chart B are offered in Section II of the full study.)
License revocation, however, is not the end of the road for some licensees with criminal records. Some criminals illegitimately obtain licenses either because they neglect to include relevant criminal history information on their applications or perhaps as the result of bureaucratic oversight. Their licenses are revoked when the criminal history information eventually comes to the attention of the licensing authority, but they nevertheless later go on to legally acquire a license. For example:
How Criminals Legally Obtain Concealed Carry Licenses
In Florida, convicted felons are generally prohibited from possessing a firearm. Yet they may apply to have their firearms privileges restored at taxpayer expense—and subsequently legally obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon.
According to the Florida Office of Executive Clemency, each year approximately 300 felons apply for the specific authority to own, possess, or use firearms. From March 1994 to March 1995, 117 felons were granted this specific authority, while an additional 66 convicted felons were granted a full pardon which includes the ability to own, possess, and use firearms. In total, 183 convicted felons had their firearm privileges restored (please see Chart C) between March 1994 and March 1995. (More detailed descriptions of some of the incidents detailed in Chart C are offered in Section II of the full study.)
Section III: Concealed Carry License Holders Do Commit Crimes
Law-abiding citizens who pay the fee, undergo background checks, take the training classes or prove their proficiency—decent folks who believe they have the fundamental right to protect themselves and their loved ones from deadly attack—these citizens don't commit violent crimes.Since the law's enactment, the Division of Licensing has revoked the licenses of 292 individuals convicted of a crime after licensure. For these 292 cases, the VPC obtained the records for the 14 revocations (please see Chart D) where public hearings were conducted. (More detailed descriptions of some of the incidents detailed in Chart D are offered in Section III of the full study.)NRA Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Tanya Metaksa
Section IV: When Is A Criminal Not A Criminal
A major loophole in the Florida law is the way it defines a "criminal" for the purpose of denying a concealed carry license. The statute sets up a hierarchy of offenses, each of which is treated differently. The end result is a system that judges eligibility for a license based not on the severity of the crime committed, but rather on the technical disposition of the charge. Moreover, no matter what crime an applicant may have committed, or how that crime is disposed of by the criminal justice system, there is an avenue available to virtually every applicant to attempt to obtain a concealed carry license.
had been arrested for the crimes of drug possession, solicitation of sex, illegal possession of dangerous weapons, receipt of stolen property, attempted robbery, criminal conspiracy, firing a pistol in a national forest, and resisting arrest. His plea bargains on some of these charges resulted in misdemeanor convictions only, not the felonies with which he was charged and should have been prosecuted. His last contact with the criminal justice system resulted in probation, even though his own probation report described him as a danger to himself and others. Because of the repeated failures of the criminal justice system, Purdy's lack of a felony record meant he could and did comply with and pass the 15-day waiting period and police background check required under California law to purchase five pistols. It was criminal justice that failed those five schoolchildren, and resulted in the tragic incident in Stockton, California.
As noted by Baker, Purdy had never been convicted of a felony. Under the NRA's "model" law in Florida, Patrick Purdy's criminal history would not have prevented him from eventually obtaining a concealed carry license.
Section V: Conclusion
Since 1987 the NRA has successfully conducted a state-by-state campaign to loosen concealed weapons laws, holding up the Florida statute as the model of how such laws work. Florida's concealed carry law is in fact an example—one not to be followed.
Careful evaluation of the Florida concealed weapons law demonstrates that such statutes increase the availability of guns to individuals with criminal records and do not result in any significant benefit to society. Also, although the Florida system is designed to be self-financed, it produces ancillary costs that burden the state's budget as well as those of other states. In light of these findings, the Violence Policy Center recommends strongly against the adoption of "shall-issue" licensing in any more states and urges that states that currently have "shall-issue" licensing repeal such laws. Short of this, the Violence Policy Center offers the following recommendations to address the loopholes in the Florida statute or similar laws.
For a copy of the full 47-page study, please send a check or money order for $10.00 to:
Violence Policy Center
The study from which this executive summary is taken, Concealed Carry: The Criminal's Companion, was authored by Susan Glick, MHS. Research Assistance was provided by Caroline Bar, Janet Corry, Theresa Kim, Kristen Rand, and Kyla Weisman. The study was edited by Paul Lavrakas. Additional editing was provided by Josh Sugarmann and Kristen Rand.
The Violence Policy Center is a national non-profit educational foundation that conducts research on violence in America and works to develop violence-reduction policies and proposals. The Center examines the role of firearms in America, conducts research on firearms violence, and explores new ways to decrease firearm-related death and injury.