Local News Columnist
9:38 PM CDT, April 9, 2012
It was just eight months ago when our cowboy-boot-wearing governor was urging Florida to be more like Texas in every way.
We heard a lot of that from Rick Scott, who loves to show off his custom Houston-made boots emblazoned with "45th Governor." Higher education? Taxes? Business development? Texas. Texas. Texas.
Here's something I wish Gov. Lone Star Wannabe would take up: concealed weapons permits.
For a state that embraces its grit, independence and wild West culture, Texas has a remarkably sensible policy for concealed weapon carriers.
Texas' policy stresses education and skill for gun owners. Precisely the two things people who are packing heat should possess.
Florida stresses convenience. In fact, you can mail-order your license without even setting foot in the Sunshine State.
In Texas, you must complete a 10-15 hour class as part of the concealed weapon application process.
In Florida, you must complete a class of unspecified length. Many classes are just three-and-a-half hours. That's less time than Florida requires of speeders in a traffic-safety class.
Texas requires gun owners to pass an exam at the end of the course and score at least 70 percent when firing 50 shots over three different distances.
There's no exam at the end of the Florida class. If you were awake, you're fit to get strapped.
Someone's first concealed weapon license in Texas is good for just four years. And if you want to re-up you have to take a four-hour refresher class.
Florida licenses are good for seven years. It used to be five years, but that was too inconvenient for the NRA, which lobbied for the longer licensure period a few years ago. And there is no requirement for a refresher on gun laws or safety. Just mail in a renewal form and photo and you're good to go.
The not-so-surprising result of these differences is that Florida issues far more concealed weapons permits than Texas, a state with 6 million more people.
Florida is verging on a million permits issued — 919,831 as of March 31 to be exact — while Texas has issued just 461,724.
But Floridians must be safer, right?
Because we're better protected from criminals if the law-abiding public is well-armed, right?
But crime data show Florida is no better off, even with one in 17 people licensed to carry.
According to FBI crime statistics, the rate of violent crimes per 100,000 people is higher in Florida than it is in Texas. Considerably higher.
In Texas there were 450 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2010. In Florida the rate was 542. Murder, robbery and aggravated assault are all higher in Florida.
The proliferation of concealed weapons in Florida in the 25 years since the state began issuing permits is worth talking about, given the intense focus on the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
By now we all know that shooter George Zimmerman was a licensed concealed weapon holder and says he shot Trayvon, who was unarmed, in self-defense. The incident has heightened awareness around the world that many of us in Florida are toting a lil' buddy along with our sunblock and flip flops.
We don't know exactly what kind of firearm training Zimmerman had, other than the minimum Florida requires to obtain a permit.
But it's in the interest of concealed-weapons proponents to make sure the required training is adequate. It would seem like a no-brainer that, when it comes to handling a deadly weapon, proficiency should win out over convenience.
In Texas there is respect for the weapon and the permit holder. There's a certain deference to the power they both wield.
In Florida, we're more cavalier. And there isn't much to show we're any better for it.
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