Life is Good in the Free States of America

posted on January 2, 2023
guy in hammock
Illustration: Gary Locke

A few months ago, I renewed my Florida concealed-carry permit on my iPhone. I received the reminder email, clicked the link, snapped a portrait picture of myself, put in my credit-card information and hit “Submit.” Three days later, the new card arrived in the mail—good for another seven years. Easy. The only downside was that, as usual, I looked like a zombie in the photo.

Easy. That’s the right word to describe carrying in Florida, thanks in no small part to the NRA, which helped to create and pass model legislation in the state back in the 1980s. 

Having lived in the Northeast—including in New York City!—I know a little bit about jumping through deliberately byzantine bureaucratic hoops, and here in the Sunshine State, those hoops don’t really exist. Here, I can carry pretty much everywhere I go without needing to worry whether I’m likely to violate some esoteric legal regulation, or attract the attention of a government official who is implacably opposed to the Second Amendment or cross the wrong arbitrary line and face immediate arrest. Florida has statewide concealed-carry preemption, which prevents recalcitrant counties from turning the state into a patchwork quilt of different rules. It has very few legal carry restrictions on the books. I can even carry at the zoo. And, where I live, no business would dream of putting a “no firearms” sign in the window. If I want to carry, I carry.

This was not the case back in Connecticut. There, I had to carefully check each and every business I patronized to see if I would be breaking the law by walking in armed. There, I was never sure which sort of locations were allowed for carry and which were verboten. There, the state line presented an insuperable barrier to my rights. For years, I lived just a few miles from New York, and I was constantly aware that if I accidentally crossed over while carrying, I’d potentially be in serious trouble. Worse yet, there was nothing whatsoever I could do about that. New York wouldn’t recognize my Connecticut carry license, and, because I was a non-resident, it wouldn’t grant me one. The same lack of recognition of my Connecticut permit was true of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which meant that I could not drive in any direction from my house without hitting a state in which carrying a gun was illegal for me. As for New York City? Forget about it.

Florida, by contrast, has reciprocity with every single state that surrounds it—and many more besides. Driving north, the first state I would hit that doesn’t recognize my Florida permit is Illinois—423 miles away. Driving west, the first would be California—1,584 miles away. Driving northeast, the first would be Maryland—597 miles away. In total, 37 states reciprocate with Florida.

When I first arrived here in 2017, I went to the DMV to change my driver’s license and license plate, and the lady at the window asked me if I wanted to apply for a concealed-carry permit while I was there. Coming from the Northeast, my jaw almost hit the floor. As it happened, I’d already completed the process, but, if I hadn’t, she said she’d have walked me through from start to finish. No wonder one in ten Floridians have a carry permit. No wonder that number continues to grow dramatically.

The only challenge in Florida is the heat. When I lived in Connecticut, I could carry a larger gun underneath my coat for most the year. In Florida, that’s a lot trickier. I spend most of my life in shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops, and bigger guns tend to prove too heavy or too likely to print
through my clothes. To adapt, I’ve taken to carrying a 9 mm Smith & Wesson Shield as a matter of daily habit—and I’ve never looked back from that change. Life’s good in Florida these days.  


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