Monday, August 10, 2009

Guns in the Sun

A local blogger notes that a man, William Kostnic, in New Hampshire carried a holstered pistol at an event where Obama was set to visit. Subsequent to the event, he appeared on Hardball with Chris Mathews on MSNBC. I admire Kostnic's chutzpah. Mathews was only able to score a point on the "blood" issue, but otherwise Mathews's usual agression was impotent. Kostnic had some serious verbal jui-jitsu going and handled himself well.

Should there be a gun-free zone around the president? Clearly, such a law would not make the president any more or less safe. However, the reality is a significant group of Americans are made uncomfortable, and are perhaps intimidated by the sight of a gun. Kostnic would argue that's not his problem, its theirs. Here in South Florida, it would have been perfectly legal for a person to attend an Obama rally with his pants around his ankles and underwear on display. Freedom of expression is freedom of expression, right? But we all need to get along, so what to do?

Fortunately, Florida has the perfect compromise: a liberal concealed weapons permit statute. The local Riptide blog notes that concealed weapons permit applications are up in Florida, by a large percentage. Riptide does a fair job of giving the reasons: (1) concerns that a Democrat-controlled congress and a Democrat president will seek stricter gun controls, and (2) fear of crime caused by the economy. This trend is not unique to Florida, this year's boom in nationwide gun sales is well documented.

According to the Division of Licensing, there are 601,625 concealed weapons permit holders in Florida. There are far more actual gun owners, because in Florida no permit is required to have a gun in your home or car. In other words, many Floridians own guns but don't apply for a concealed weapons permit allowing them to carry in public. But the state also reports licenses by county, with over 100,000 between Broward and Dade. Consider that there are 1.7 million people in Broward, 2.3 million in Dade, and about 18 million in Florida. That means 3% of Floridians have a concealed carry permit, and 2.5% of South Floridians (defined as Broward-Dade).

While I support the right to bear arms, and Florida's concealed weapons laws, I have some reservations about open carry around the president. Even if the carrier harbors no ill intent, a visible weapon would be available for someone who did intend harm. The secret service would probably have to assign an agent to the sole duty of keeping an eye on that firearm, unnecessarily tying up a resource. If a large group of people intended to follow Kostnic's example, the president would likely have to skip that venue.

I support Kostnic, but once was probably enough to prove the point. Future statements to the same effect can be made by openly carrying an obviously toy or paper replica gun in a real holster. I don't think Mathews's point about "history" is valid, as due to concealed carry, Obama and former presidents have probably been around armed citizens thousands of times without incident. But Mathews may have a point that when the president is in public, open carry is an unecessary nuisance.

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