In state legislatures across the country pitched battles are being waged to relax laws regarding the carrying of concealed handguns. In these battles, Florida’s 1987 “shall-issue” carrying concealed weapons (CCW) law has been hailed by organizations such as the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) as the model to be followed. When faced with police and public opposition, proponents of relaxed concealed weapons laws often rely on the citation of select crime statistics or research that all too often fails to take into account the complexities of crime and violence. As James T. Moore, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and head of the state’s licensing program, has acknowledged, “No formula exists which is capable of establishing a link between the existence of Florida’s Concealed Weapons Program to any increases or decreases in crime in the state.” Although an ardent defender of Florida’s law, his reticence to credit it with any effect on Florida’s crime rate is understandable. Many factors affect crime. To argue that licensing a tiny fraction of any state’s population to legally carry handguns would outweigh all other factors is questionable. Yet the battle of dueling statistics continues, obscuring a basic question: What are the real-world effects of such laws?
In November 1995 the Violence Policy Center (VPC) began to answer this question with the release of Concealed Carry: The Criminal’s Companion. The study was a first-of-its-kind, in-depth analysis of how Florida’s shall-issue concealed weapons law actually functions. The VPC study analyzed documents obtained from the Florida Division of Licensing regarding the issuance, renewal, and revocation of concealed weapons licenses in Florida and arrived at an inescapable conclusion: Florida’s concealed weapons law puts guns into the hands of criminals. The study found that since the inception of Florida’s law hundreds of license holders had committed a wide variety of crimesï¿½including assault with intent to murder, kidnapping/attempted kidnapping, and shooting with intent to woundï¿½either before obtaining the Florida concealed weapons license or after licensure.
This study builds upon the previous VPC study by analyzing licenses revoked by the Florida Division of Licensing for the period May 31, 1995 to May 31, 1996. The analysis reveals that:
- The rate at which Florida’s concealed weapons law is arming criminals is increasing. In the year-long period surveyed, an additional 159 individuals had their licenses revoked. Almost all (149 of 159, or 94 percent) were for crimes committed either before or after their concealed weapons license was issued. This represents a one-year jump of nearly 30 percent over the previous seven-year total.
- More than half of the crime-related revocations (84 of 149, or 56 percent) were for crimes committed after licensure. One license holder was able to possess his concealed weapons license for three years and three months after having committed a crime before it was revoked. Of those who committed a crime after having received their concealed weapons license, one in five (17 of 84) committed their crime with a gun.
- The 17 revocations over the year-long period due to gun-related crimes committed after licensure represents a one-year jump of 35 percent over the previous seven-year tally.
- During the year-long period surveyed, 65 license holders had their concealed weapons licenses revoked for crimes they had committed beforehaving received the license. One illegitimate license holder possessed his license for two years and eight months before it was finally revoked.
Surprisingly, the Florida Division of Licensing offers little information on the crimes committed by its license holders. For this study, however, the Violence Policy Center was able to obtain detailed records in the 43 instances where license holders challenged their revocation at a public hearing. Examples of firearm crimes committed by license holders after licensure include:
- Orrin Weiss, who was arrested for aggravated battery and aggravated assault after attacking a female acquaintance during an argument. Outside the victim’s home Weiss held a black handgun, believed to be a Glock pistol, to the victim’s left temple as he held her by the throat.
- Ruben Cervantes, who was arrested on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he pulled out his revolver during an argument.
- Jesus Fernandez, who was arrested for aggravated assault with a firearm after pointing one of two firearms he had in his car at another motorist who had cut him off in traffic.
- Carl Hileman, who was arrested for aggravated assault with a firearm after he pointed one of three firearms he had in his vehicle at two victims in an adjacent vehicle.
It is important to remember that the 43 examples obtained by the Violence Policy Center are only a sampling of the 149 crimes committed. Because of the license holders’ willingness to challenge the revocation at a public hearing, it is possible that they may well represent the least severe of the crimes committed. It is also unknown how many criminals go undetected by the Florida Division of Licensing.
Even for those criminals who are identified by the Florida Division of Licensing and have their licenses revoked, there is always hope that they may once again legally possess a license:
- Individuals who have been convicted of a state felony can legally receive a concealed weapons license by applying to the Florida Office of Executive Clemency for restoration of their civil rights and firearm privileges.
- Individuals who have had adjudication withheld on a felony charge, and some persons convicted of one or more violent misdemeanors, merely have to wait three years from completion of any conditions set by the court to legally receive a concealed weapons license.
- Individuals guilty of crimes relating to controlled substances, or who have chronically and habitually abused alcoholic beverages or other substances, need only wait three years from completion of any conditions set by the court before they are eligible to legally possess a license.
This study is divided into two sections detailing information contained in documents obtained by the Violence Policy Center for license holders who challenged their revocations at a public hearing. Section One: Crimes Committed After Licensure offers full synopses of the crimes committed after licensure of the 19 license holders who challenged their revocation at a public hearing. The section also contains full synopses of the three non-crime related cases where the license holder challenged the revocation at a public hearing. Section Two: Crimes Committed Before Licensure details and offers select synopses of the crimes committed before licensure of the 24 license holders who challenged their revocation at a public hearing. The section also contains a full synopsis of the one non-crime related case where the license holder challenged the revocation at a public hearing.
While advocates of relaxed concealed weapons laws ask the public to accept on faith the benefits of such laws, the cases detailed on the following pages illustrate their real-world effect: they arm criminals and threaten public safety. At the same time, no evidence exists that these negative effects are offset by license holders legitimately and properly using their weapons in self-defense.
1. Prior to 1987, Florida, like most states, had a discretionary system for issuing concealed weapons licenses, commonly referred to as “may-issue” licensing. Under such systems, legal authorities such as a county sheriff, judge, or local police official may grant licenses to citizens who may or may not need to show a compelling need. In 1987, as the result of a campaign by the National Rifle Association and its Florida affiliate, the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, the Florida legislature enacted legislation creating a non-discretionary system under which state authorities must provide a concealed weapons license to any applicant who meets specific criteria. Such systems are commonly known as “shall-issue” licensing. With the removal of local discretion to deny licenses, a shall-issue system inevitably increases the number of persons with licenses to carry a weapon, almost always a firearm.
2. In 1995 10 states passed relaxed CCW laws, including: Texas, Virginia, and Utah. Currently, 31 states have shall-issue concealed weapons laws.
3. On average, one to three percent.
4. According to the Division of Licensing the 10 remaining non-crime related revocations involved either physical infirmity or commitment to a mental institution. The VPC received public hearing records for four of the non-criminal revocations.
5. According to legal counsel for the Division of Licensing, adjudication withheld means that judgment by the court was withheld on a charge and there was no conviction. The court may withhold adjudication in cases where the defendant pleads guilty to the crime charged, in plea-bargained cases, or for first-time offenders. Adjudication may be withheld for both felony and misdemeanor charges. For example, rather than going through a trial, a defendant may agree to plead guilty to a charge. In exchange, the court may agree to withhold judgment on that charge. The defendant is still sentenced and must serve all conditions of the court, however there is no conviction on the defendant’s record.
6. For a detailed analysis of the ways in which criminals can obtain concealed weapons licenses in Florida please see the November 1995 Violence Policy Center study Concealed Carry: The Criminal’s Companion.
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