Florida currently requires a concealed weapon permit to legally carry a concealed weapon. Getting a permit requires receiving proper training (typically a four-hour class), a background check (with fingerprints), and paying a fee. I have been through this process and was even required to complete the training despite having held hunting licenses and a concealed carry permit from my home state of Maine. As might be expected, I did rather well in the class.
Having gone through the process, I do understand why some people might see it is burdensome and there are certainly reasonable objections to the need to pay a fee for the permit. Then again, it does seem fair to place the burden of the cost of the process on the citizen getting the permit, rather than offloading it onto the other taxpayers.
Given that unsafe gun handling is dangerous, it makes moral sense to require such training—just as is done in the case of hunting licenses. After all, if people are going about armed, then they have an obligation to undergo basic safety training to reduce the chances they will hurt themselves and others. Having spent many years hunting and at gun ranges, I know how dangerous people can be when they do not have a grasp of basic gun safety. That said, it could be argued that the right to keep and bear arms trumps the right to not have some untrained and irresponsible person shoot you by accident.
Ron DeSantis and other Republican leaders are advancing a bill that will allow permitless carry. DeSantis and these Republicans might seem to be something of a paradox: while they dominate Florida, most Floridians disagree or even strongly disagree with many of their policies. In the case of permitless carry, one would expect that 93% of Democrats oppose it. What is surprising is that 77% of independents and 62% of Republicans oppose it. Police often oppose it as well, mostly from the belief that officers will be interacting with more armed citizens. DeSantis has said that while he will support the bill, he would prefer that it also allowed open carry.
One obvious reason to pass this bill is to ensure re-election funding from the gun lobby. There is probably also some thought given to the fear factor: that certain citizens, especially when protesting, will need to worry more about armed people. Open carry does, of course, allow citizens to put on a show of force and engage in armed intimidation—which would be a good reason for DeSantis and his fellows to back this. But is the bill a good idea? Rather than go with biased intuitions and wishful thinking, I will focus on the available data. Unfortunately, the data is not great—in part because of the gun lobby.
Proponents of permitless carry usually advance two main arguments. The first is an appeal to rights argument. On their interpretation of the Second Amendment, requiring such a permit is a violation of the right to keep and bear arms. I will obviously leave the legal question to the Constitutional scholars. But requiring permits does seem to be on good legal standing and opponents of permitless carry point to these laws.
The second argument is the good guy with a gun argument: allowing citizens to carry weapons without a permit will reduce crime (because criminals will be afraid that their potential victims will be armed) and enable good guys with guns to thwart criminal activity.
From a moral standpoint, I do think that the right of self-defense (see, for example, John Locke) gives citizens the moral right to be armed. But this must be assessed in the context of other rights that would place limits on this right. The right to life, for example, would limit the extent to which people can exercise other rights that present a danger to others. This is where the facts matter: if permitless carry did more good than harm, then it would be reasonable to accept it on utilitarian moral grounds. So, what do the numbers, to the degree we have them, show?
Interestingly, while there are plausible studies that show that shall-issue concealed carry laws might increase homicides and some studies showing that they might increase violent crime, studies of the link between total homicides and permitless carry are inconclusive. As such, we do not know what negative effects this bill might have if it becomes a law. Proponents can point to this to undercut opponents. They can also make the usual argument that criminals will ignore the permit laws, so it is only the law-abiding citizens who are affected. But the obvious reply is that a law-abiding citizen who can afford a gun can probably afford the permit and permits are easy to get for law-abiding citizens. And if the cost is a factor, the bill could just remove or reduce the fee.
Opponents can, of course, make an appeal to intuition: allowing everyone to carry a gun without a permit (and training) will mean more firearm accidents and increase the chances of conflicts escalating to gun violence. They will also point to concerns about the alleged risk to both police and citizens in interactions. But these concerns rest on the assumption that a significant number of people will start carrying guns and that they will be less competent and more prone to violence than permit holders. I suspect, but do not know, that when the bill passes there will be an uptick in people carrying guns—simply because they can. But as the novelty wears off and people realize that carrying around a gun can be inconvenient, the number will drop again. That is, things will probably not be as bad as opponents might think. That said, I do still favor the permit and training requirements, but this is because of my moral view that people should have training before they arm themselves. But what about the crime deterrence and thwarting argument?
While the NRA and their fellows advance the intuitively appealing “good guy with a gun” narrative, it is not supported by the evidence. I do get the appeal: we have all seen the TV shows and movies where the hero shoots the bad guys and saves the day. And I suspect that many people have had at least a brief fantasy of saving the day with their heroic gun play (or martial arts). But fiction and fantasy are not evidence. Unfortunately, the available evidence shows that despite the popular misconception, more guns do not stop more crimes. What should also be obvious is that permitless carry is not a magical change. After all, people can already easily get a permit in Florida. As such, criminals should already be rationally calculating that their intended victim might be armed and there are already lots of good guys and gals with guns. As such, the deterrence and thwarting argument has no real merit, given how easy it is to get a permit.
While I could be wrong, the most reasonable conclusion is that when the bill becomes law there will be a brief uptick in people carrying guns because of the novelty and then most of these people will stop carrying. After all, most people who really want or need to carry already have permits and carrying around a concealed weapon in Florida can be a bit inconvenient.
There is, of course, a risk that there will be an increase in firearm accidents and that some conflicts might escalate to gun violence. As far as the deterrence and thwarting, the evidence indicates that there will most likely be no meaningful impact. I do, however, hope that I get a refund on my permit—I can use that money to buy some more bullets.