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.Criminals do receive concealed carry licenses. Section II of the study details both the legal and illegitimate routes convicted criminals exploit to receive concealed carry licenses in Florida.
Concealed carry license holders do commit crimes. Section III of the study details cases of concealed carry license holders in Florida who have had their licenses revoked or suspended for various crimes—including firearm and drug violations.
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.)
|Name||Apparent Crime and Date of Conviction|
|James Nicholas Ansay||Convicted of a felony–Aggravated Battery
With a Deadly Firearm (July 25, 1993)
|James Vincent Balestire||May have been convicted of a felony–Attempted
Rape, Endangering the Welfare of a Child and
Assault (May 9, 1974)
|Theodore Geza Barath||Petitioner may have been convicted of a felony–
Possession of Marijuana (August 4, 1979)
|Michael Boscarino||Convicted of a felony–Carrying a Concealed
Firearm and Possession of Marijuana (November 21, 1992)
|Lenon Raymond Butler, Jr.||Convicted of a felony–Use of a Motor Vehicle Without
Owner’s Permission, also served an extra year for parole
violation in connection with the motor vehicle charge (April 3, 1963)
|Jose Richard Dominguez||Adjudication withheld on a felony charge–
Cocaine-Attempted Purchase, Controlled
Substance Cocaine (August 25, 1989)
|David Clair Faust||Convicted of a felony–Conspiracy (on or about
Feb. 9, 1961), Uttering Worthless Checks (on or
about March 10, 1961)
|Alan Phillip Garrett||Convicted of a felony–Violation of Controlled
Substance Drug Dev and Cosm Act (January 27, 1978)
|Wilson Laverne Gunn||Convicted of a felony–Breaking and Entering
an Automobile (June 29, 1963)
|Hasnain Mehdi Hanif||Convicted of a felony–Passport Fraud (on
or about November 24, 1988)
|William A. Kaeding||Convicted of a felony–Unemployment
Fraud (November 7, 1980)
|Jake Lamor||Convicted of a felony–Storehouse Breaking
Personal Property (November 11, 1971)
|Michael Raymond Mila||Adjudication withheld on a felony charge–
Hit and Run With Injuries (March 26, 1993)
|David Wayne Morrison||Convicted of a felony–Theft of Motor
Vehicle, Entering (February 5, 1980)
|Monroe Mattox Neveils||Adjudication withheld on a felony charge–
Dumping/Health Safety Nuisance Inj (October 16, 1990)
|Henry Leonard Robinson, Jr||Adjudication withheld on a felony charge–
Carrying a Concealed Firearm (February 23, 1992)
|Robert Lee Simpson||Convicted of a felony–Breaking and Entering
(December 20, 1968)
|Nicholas Arthur Ventola||Convicted of a felony–Kidnapping and
Aggravated Rape (September 30, 1982)
|Samuel Walker, Jr.||Convicted of a felony–Aggravated Assault
With a Deadly Weapon (May 31, 1971)
|Robert D. Watson||Adjudication withheld on a felony charge–
Aggravated Assault (February 17, 1992)
|Cecil Franklin Wilhite||Convicted of a felony–Grand Larceny and
Buying, Recieving or Concealing Stolen Etc. (May 24, 1949)
|Diane A. Wilson||Adjudication withheld on a felony charge–
Carrying a Concelaed Weapon/Firearm (October 19, 1990)
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:
- Thomas J. Thompson was issued a concealed carry license in October 1992. Three months later the Division of Licensing sent Mr. Thompson an administrative complaint to revoke his license. Criminal history information received by the division revealed that Mr. Thompson had been convicted of a felony, burglary-conspiracy in July 1978. On March 15, 1995 Mr. Thompson was granted the authority to own, possess, or use firearms by the Office of Executive Clemency in the state of Florida. He has subsequently reapplied and received a new license to carry a concealed weapon.
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.)
|Original Conviction||Total Number of Cases||Duration of License in Months|
– Sale or Distribution
– Carrying a Concealed Weapon
– Illegal Possession of Firearm
– Illegal Possession and Illegal
Exportation of Firearm
– Shooting with Intent to Wound
|Homicide and Attempted Homicide
– Assault with Intent to Murder
– Hit and Run Resulting in Death
|Felony Crime||Number of Convictions|
– Sale or Distribution
– Attempted Criminal Possession of a Weapon
– Carrying a Concealed Weapon/Firearm
– Carrying a Loaded Firearm in a Public Place
– Conspiracy to Transfer Unregistered Machine Guns
– Illegal Transfer of Machine Gun
– Possession of 22 Caliber Silencer Not Registered to
– Possession of 22 Caliber Silencer Which Did Not Bear
a Serial Registration Number
– Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon
– Possession of a Sawed-Off Shotgun
– Possession of Unregistered Machine Gun
– Unlawful Possession of a Pistol
|Homicide and Attempted Homicide
– Attempted Manslaughter
-Second Degree Murder
– Solicitation to Commit Murder in the First Degree
Of the 183 convicted felons who had their firearm privileges restored between March 1994 and March 1995, 29 felons went on to obtain concealed carry licenses. As of September 1995 another six had applications pending. For example:
- Charles Wesley Parrot was convicted in September 1958 of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. He was sentenced to serve three years in a state penitentiary. His sentence was suspended after 18 months and he was placed on three years probation. In March 1983 Mr. Parrot was convicted of unlawful possession of a pistol. He was sentenced to serve two years in the state penitentiary. After nine months his sentence was suspended and he was placed on probation for 18 months and fined $512.25. He was granted a full pardon in the state of South Carolina in January 1989. On March 15, 1995 Charles Wesley Parrot was granted the specific authority to own, possess, and use firearms by the state of Florida’s Office of Executive Clemency. Mr. Parrot has subsequently applied for, and obtained, a license to carry a concealed firearm.
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.
NRA Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Tanya Metaksa
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.)
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.
- Persons convicted of a felony are generally ineligible to receive a concealed carry license. However, felons convicted under state law may apply through the Office of Executive Clemency for restoration of their firearm privileges. Many individuals convicted of serious felonies have used the clemency process to obtain a concealed carry permit.
- Persons with adjudication withheld on a felony are eligible to apply for a concealed carry license once three years have elapsed since probation or any other conditions set by the court have been met.
|Original Conviction||Total Number of Cases|
– Sale or Distribution
– Aggravated Assault/Concealed Firearm
– Aggravated Assault with Deadly Weapon
– Aggravated Assault with Firearm
– Shooting at, within, or into Occupied Vehicle
- Persons convicted of a violent misdemeanor are eligible to apply for a concealed carry license once three years have elapsed since probation or any other conditions set by the court have been met.
- Persons with adjudication withheld on a violent misdemeanor are eligible to receive a concealed carry license through the normal licensing process.
- Persons convicted of, or who have had adjudication withheld on, a non-violent misdemeanor are eligible to receive a concealed carry license through the normal licensing process.
The Florida legislation makes keeping licenses out of the hands of criminals virtually impossible. The NRA’s “model” concealed carry legislation creates incentives for individuals to plea bargain and rewards those who do so. This is an ironic aspect of the law in light of the fact that the NRA has repeatedly and vehemently condemned plea bargaining. In April 1989 James Jay Baker, former executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, testified before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary on the “Semiautomatic Assault Weapons Act of 1989.” Baker’s testimony is typical of the NRA’s attacks on plea bargaining. Baker cited the practice as the true villain in Patrick Purdy’s 1989 fatal assault-weapon attack on a playground-full of schoolchildren in Stockton, California, stating that Purdy:
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 themodel 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.
- The list of disqualifying crimes should be comprehensive enough to capture all potentially dangerous applicants. At a minimum, all felonies and clearly defined violent misdemeanors should be automatic disqualifiers.
- The licensing authority must be granted sufficient time to perform an adequate background check based on the actual time it takes a state to respond to requests for information on an applicant’s criminal record. The law should also stipulate a suspension of that time limit in cases where the department receives criminal history information with no final disposition of a crime.
- Applicants who misrepresent their criminal histories or any other material facts should be prosecuted and prohibited from reapplying for a concealed carry license.
- States with clemency programs similar to Florida’s should eliminate the ability of felons to regain their firearm privileges. Clemency should not be employed as a mechanism for felons to obtain a concealed carry license.
- A criminal record attributable to a plea bargain or “adjudication withheld” should not be distinguished for licensing purposes from a conviction and should provide grounds for disqualification from licensure.
- The process for revoking licenses of persons found to have criminal records and of those who commit crimes subsequent to licensure should be streamlined.
- License fees should be set at a level that ensures that applicants bear all costs of license issuance including background checks performed by out-of-state law enforcement agencies.
- An evaluation mechanism must be established to closely examine the effects of the licensing system. The mechanism should identify and track all denials, revocations, and suspensions. In addition, a system for identifying all uses of licensed weapons should be established. Such a mechanism is essential in evaluating the effect of concealed carry laws on public and personal safety.
- The Violence Policy Center requested revocation files from the Florida Department of State, Division of Licensing for the period October 1987 to May 1995. Criminal history information was removed on almost all the files to comply with the Hser Agreement with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and 28 CFR 20. The 63 cases analyzed in this chart are those cases which involved public hearings.
- This classification quantifies the time in number of months between the date the license was issued to the date an administrative complaint was sent by the Division of Licensing to revoke the license. In order to calculate the “Duration of License in Months” the following standard was established. If a person received the license before the 15th day of the month a full month was counted. Also, if an administrative complaint was sent to revoke a license on or after the 15th day of the month a full month was counted. For crime categories in which there was more than one case, a range from the shortest duration of license to the longest duration of license was noted.
- Miscellaneous crimes include: Attempted Bribe Receiving, Criminal Contempt, and Willful Destruction of Property.
- In cases where felons were convicted of more than one crime, all convictions are noted.
- Miscellaneous crimes include: Attempted Arson, Desertion, Malicious Destruction of Property, and Violation of Probation.
- The Violence Policy Center requested revocation files from the Florida Department of State, Division of Licensing for the period October 1987 to May 1995. Criminal history information was removed on almost all the files to comply with the User Agreement with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Section 28 CFR 20 (Federal Code). Criminal history utilized at public hearings was included. The 14 cases analyzed in this chart are those cases which involved public hearings.
For a copy of the full 47-page study, please send a check or money order for $10.00 to:
Violence Policy Center
1730 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
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.