Home Opinion OPINION: Guns: When ‘constitutional carry’ isn’t

OPINION: Guns: When ‘constitutional carry’ isn’t

Thomas Knapp

On Jan. 30, several Florida legislators introduced HB 543, “Concealed Carry of Weapons and Firearms Without a License.” If passed, it would “allow” anyone — Floridian or not — who “meets specified requirements” to carry concealed firearms in the state.

Many gun rights supporters laud HB 543 as not just a good step, but something called “constitutional carry,” even though among other defects, it doesn’t seem to legalize “open” (that is, unconcealed) carry. Let’s review what restrictions the U.S. Constitution empowers government at any level to impose on the possession or carry of firearms:

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It’s difficult to get more clear or prescriptive than “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” See that period at the end there?

The Florida bill ever so slightly lightens one specific unconstitutional burden on one specific right, while imposing at least one patently unconstitutional burden on those exercising that right: They “[m]ust carry valid identification at all times when he or she is in actual possession of a concealed weapon or concealed firearm and must display such identification upon demand by a law enforcement officer.”

Suppose that one does not meet the law’s unconstitutional “specified requirements” — for example, having never been convicted of offenses related to “controlled substances” — but decides to carry concealed (as is his or her right) anyway.

Requiring that person to provide “valid identification” (“valid” seems to be undefined in the bill) is a requirement that the person incriminate himself or herself, a requirement forbidden by the Fifth Amendment.

Unless a police officer has probable cause to believe that you’re committing or have committed a crime, who you are is none of that police officer’s business. And if he or she does have such probable cause, it’s his or her job to identify you, not your duty to identify yourself.

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HB 543 isn’t “constitutional carry.” It’s a partial relaxation of unconstitutional restrictions, combined with new unconstitutional restrictions.

Real “constitutional carry” would look something like this:

“All Florida statutes, regulations, orders, and ordinances relating to the manufacture, sale or other transfer, ownership, or carriage of arms are hereby repealed. All persons charged or held prisoner by the state of Florida or any subdivision thereof pursuant to such statutes, regulations, orders, and ordinances shall be immediately freed. All convictions of violating such statutes, regulations, orders, and ordinances shall be expunged. A truth and reconciliation commission shall be established to determine the amounts, qualifications, and processes for paying restitution to those damaged or injured by said statutes, regulations, orders, and ordinances.”

The politicians behind HB 543 aren’t on your side, or on the Constitution’s. They’re just making a simple matter complex while sacrificing none of their illegitimate power over you.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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