Opinion: Constitutional Carry is how Florida sheds the last vestiges of Jim Crow bigotry
Florida these past two years has promoted itself has being the “freest state in the country.” Well, here’s an ugly truth. Florida is not the in any way the freest state. Florida, a state which is nicknamed the “Gunshine State,” doesn’t even have Open Carry, let alone Constitutional Carry. Meanwhile, twenty-five states have Constitutional Carry with Alabama and Georgia being the newest states just passing it in March of this year.
Florida, under a Republican Legislative supermajority, has blocked its passage three times now during our regular sessions — even after Governor Ron DeSantis has called for its passage. Yes, Governor DeSantis openly backs Constitutional Carry and he wants to truly make Florida a free state. But Florida’s Republican Legislative leadership, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, have blocked it with their help of their political lapdogs.
Florida is rife with authoritative bureaucracy, imposing administrative rulings, and quasi-despotic laws that can trace their linage and history back to a very oppressive era in terms of civil rights.
Florida’s gun laws and heavy restrictions on the carrying of firearms in public go back to the year 1877, and the Great Compromise made between Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats.
The Compromise of 1877 was an unwritten deal, informally arranged among Southern Congressmen to settle the intensely disputed presidential election of 1876. The South agreed to have Republican presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes awarded the presidency over Samuel J. Tilden, the Democrat candidate, on the understanding that Hayes would remove the federal troops providing essential for the survival of Republican-led governments in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida.
Prior to the compromise, freed Blacks were running for office and winning, starting and owning successful businesses, and most importantly, raising families free from the fears of political and physical assaults. In part, this was because these freed Blacks were able to legally own and carry firearms for self-defense. They were able to defend themselves and their loved ones, along with being able to defend their home and businesses.
With the compromise, all of that progress was suddenly swept away and thrown into the dustbin of history. Bigoted Southern Democrats regained control of the state governments and this especially happened in Florida. One of the first things the racists did was pass laws to disarm freed Blacks. These were colloquially known as “Black Codes.” On paper, these laws were to be applied across the board towards the state’s entire population. In reality, they were applied against Blacks only.
Starting in the 1890s, Florida’s racist Democrats instituted laws that required people have a permit issued by the government to legally own and carry a firearm. The purpose was to be able to “screen for vagabonds and miscreants.” The reality was to make sure that there is a method to disarm Black Floridians, and more importantly, arrest them if caught having a firearm in their possession.
Why, because a disarmed populace is ripe for political oppression. If a certain segment of the population is disarmed, they can’t defend themselves and their loved one against violence. Violent assaults from the mob (the Klu Klux Klan) or the government itself.
This continued all throughout the first half of the 20th Century and the issue was blown wide open in 1941 with the Florida Supreme Court case Watson v. Stone. The case overturned the unlicensed gun possession conviction of a White man and Justice Rivers Buford wrote the following in his concurring opinion:
The Act was passed when there was a great influx of negro laborers in this State….The same condition existed when the Act was amended in 1901 and the Act was passed for the purpose of disarming the negro laborers….The statute was never intended to be applied to the white population and in practice has never been so applied… – Watson v. Stone, 148 Fla. 516, 524, 4 So.2d 700, 703 (1941) (GMU CR LJ, p. 69)
Yes, you read that right. During the height of Jim Crow, the Florida Supreme Court flat out stated that the law was only intended to be applied to Black Floridians. The ruling, by the way, in no way improved the Second Amendment rights of Black Floridians.
After that case, it didn’t get any better. Florida stayed under a “may issue” system where the government could pick and choose who could get a permit until 1987 when Florida went to a “shall issue” system. But that still meant you had to lease your rights back from the government and ask for permission.
Even with “shall issue,” problems persist. Why?
In 1989, a Florida court ruled against Second Amendment rights in Crane v. Department of State:
We find that retroactive application of section 790.06(2)(k), Florida Statutes, is not unconstitutional because a license to carry a concealed weapon or firearm is a privilege and not a vested right. – Crane v. Department of State, 547 So. 2d 266 (Fla. 1989)
Jeffery Crane pleaded nolo contendere to two felony charges in 1987 and an adjudication of guilt was withheld. Nolo contendere is traditionally part of a plea deal, which itself stems from a legal practice created during the Jim Crow era. With multiple Black Codes created, there was always a lesser offense to charge.
So, a pattern evolved of having someone agree to a plea bargain of a lesser charge instead of facing the full weight of the main criminal charge. In Mr. Crane’s case, he contended that when he plead nolo contendere to the felonies in 1987, section 790.06(2)(k), Florida Statutes, was not in effect since it didn’t exist yet. The courts ruled that didn’t matter since carrying is a privilege in Florida and retroactively suspended his permit to carry.
Nothing stopped the government from amending and changing the laws on who can and can’t qualify for a permit, as seen in Mr. Crane’s case.
With that, the repugnant stain of Jim Crow continued to linger into the 21st Century.
In 2017, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in Norman v. State the following:
We hold that section 790.053 does not unconstitutionally infringe on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court in Heller and McDonald, or the Florida Constitution’s freestanding right to bear arms subject to the Legislature’s authority to regulate the use and manner of doing so. Because section 790.053 regulates only one manner of bearing arms and does not impair the exercise of the fundamental right to bear arms, we approve the Fourth District’s well-reasoned decision in Norman upholding the constitutionality of section 790.053 under intermediate scrutiny. – Norman v. State, 215 So. 3d 18 (Fla. 2017)
That ruling might be confusing for some so I’ll give you the background on what happened.
Dale Norman was a Black man who was legally armed and had a valid Florida Concealed Weapons Permit. He was simply walking down the sidewalk and had an accidental exposure of his firearm. Meaning his shirt rode up and he was openly carrying it. Someone called 911 and Norman was forced to the ground at gunpoint by the Fort Pierce Police and arrested.
The Florida Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling that carrying is a privilege in Florida and not a right. Thus, the ban on openly carrying a firearm is constitutional.
We’ve seen a number of instances where a Black person is harassed while simply minding their business. The most notable that I recall was the actions of Amy Cooper (a White woman). She got into an argument with Christian Cooper (a Black man and of no relation), an avid bird watcher that frequented NYC’s Central Park. The area required that dogs be on leashes for the safety of the bird watchers. Mr. Cooper asked her to leash her dog. Her response was no and that she threatened to make false allegations against him. She was caught on video stating: “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”
Was that the case with Mr. Norman? We’ll never know for sure. But we do know that even today, there are some thick headed bigoted individuals that use gun control as a dog whistle to disarm and control minorities. We see it in heavily Democrat controlled areas with strict gun control. They cite gang violence and high crime as a reason for the need for gun control. Crime related issues that have a high minority rate of involvement due to poorer economic conditions.
Never mind the fact that the very advocates of gun control literally disarm the very minority residents of those communities that are victims of the criminals that plague their communities.
Gun control across the country and especially in Florida can trace their inception to racism and bigotry. One of the worst forms of gun control other than outright bans on ownership is the continuation of a permitting system.
Florida’s Republican Legislative Leadership claims they’re for equality and freedom. Well, they need to prove it.
THEY MUST PASS CONSTITUTIONAL CARRY DURING THE SPECIAL SESSION THAT GOVERNOR DESANTIS HAS CALLED.
Doing anything less is a sign that the Republican Legislative Leadership is defending and protecting Democratic Jim Crow era bigotry.
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