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Palm Beach Daily News
DeSantis, don't be too quick on the draw. Think before turning the 2nd Amendment on us.
By Bobby Powell,
The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board considers a wide range of viewpoints submitted to us by our readers. This is an opinion piece provided to the Post and is the writer's viepoint.
Before the first gavel of the 2023 Legislative Session even sounded, a measure heavy on gun politics and light on equal application of Second Amendment rights in Florida was primed for quick passage.
HB 543 and its Senate counterpart, SB150, are ironically entitled “Public Safety” — no doubt based more on nostalgic imagery than the cold reality we see on a routine basis.
Both measures would eliminate the permitting of concealed carry weapons, as well as the currently required safety training and gun proficiency standards. It would throw open the door to anyone eligible to purchase a handgun, to immediately begin surreptitiously carrying that loaded weapon in public settings. And it would require any person carrying without a permit to show ID when prompted by law enforcement. What could go wrong?
In a state that suffered the Pulse and Parkland tragedies, the bill — despite a ban on weapons at his own events — stems from campaign promises made by Florida’s governor to broaden gun rights by passing “constitutional carry.” The legislation, once he signs it, is expected to help beef up his conservative bona fides in his drive to capture next year’s Republican nomination for president.
But a critical element continues to be sidestepped, the unequal application of Second Amendment rights to people of color.
In Palm Beach County, we saw firsthand what happens when an overzealous police officer hastily judged a Black man licensed to carry and attempting to defend himself, and opened fire. Corey Jones never had a chance.
Residents in Hoover, Ala. saw the consequences, too. Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford, Jr. was killed by law enforcement on Thanksgiving night in 2018. The 21-year old Army vet, who was licensed to carry, was directing shoppers to safety after gunfire erupted at the local mall and left a man and a 12-year old girl wounded. Mistaking Bradford, who was Black, for the shooter, and with no verbal warning, police opened fire on the good guy with the gun, hitting Bradford in the back of his head and body.
And in 2016, the nation saw the reality of being Black and legally armed as Philando Castile notified a police officer who had pulled him over that there was a legal weapon in the car, and was promptly shot and killed as he reached for his identification.
This is just a sampling of killings that rose to national prominence. There are surely many more that have gone largely unnoticed.
In the name of politics, the few safeguards built into Florida’s concealed carry law are about to be gutted. In the name of politics, a segment of Florida’s population will face heightened dangers as inherent biases influence split-second judgment calls on whether to pull a trigger.
The debate in Florida’s legislature has, predictably, broken down to pro- vs anti-gun.
Yet to be discussed, dissected, and debated is the impact this legislation will have on communities of color. Especially as it is precisely the members of these communities who typically bear the brunt of such measures, and whose rights have been targeted by the governor in the past.
As the pandemic unfolded, more and more Blacks began arming themselves, whether out of fear for personal safety, or, simply, self-empowerment. Still, even as sales rose, Black gun rights advocates supported responsible gun ownership, the same guardrails HB543 and SB150 will eradicate.
The governor likes to claim that he’s a “big Second Amendment guy.” My fear is that as this rushed legislation races to passage, this constitutional right may well be turned against us.
State Senator Bobby Powell, a Democrat, represents District 24 in Palm Beach County.