In December of 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) confirmed that the state of Florida will soon improve the concealed-carry permitting system it has had in place since 1987 by adopting constitutional carry as well. In so doing, Florida would become the 26th state to get out of the way of the peoples’ right to “bear arms.” If this happens, in just a few decades, the United States will have gone from having one state with a permitless carry system in place (Vermont) to having a majority of states with permitless carry systems in place.
To those who follow this area of the law, the news that Florida is moving to add itself to the constitutional-carry list should be entirely unsurprising. Historically, Florida has often been a trailblazer in pursuit of the restoration of the Second Amendment, but, in this case, it has fallen behind the times. Indeed, to take a look at a map of constitutional-carry states is to notice that Florida is effectively surrounded. In the last few years, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia and have all made the switch, and they were preceded by so many other states that it is now possible to drive from Georgia to Arizona (via Montana) without ever leaving a state that hasn’t eliminated its permitting requirement.
But here’s a peculiar thing: If, for whatever reason, you were to have followed Florida’s wholly unexceptional plan solely via the mainstream press, you’d have a hard time learning any of this. Instead, you’d “know” all sorts of other things—things that, on closer inspection, turn out to be flatly false. Specifically, you’d end up thinking that Florida’s decision represented a dramatic departure from the norm. You’d end up thinking that Florida’s governor—and its legislature—were full of wild-eyed extremists. You’d end up thinking that states that abolish their permitting requirement become more dangerous as a result. Hell, if you availed yourself of the more-hysterical coverage, you might even end up worried that there were bound to be shootouts in the streets as a result of this change.
Don’t take my word for it; try it yourself. Pick up your phone, type the words “Florida constitutional carry” into Google and peruse the news articles that come up. Note the language that is used as a matter of routine: “extreme,” “dangerous,” “unsafe,” “radical.” Count the number of times that the uninformed opinion of the author is laundered through the phrase “experts say.” Observe the non-sequiturs and the lies; in particular, note the pretense that constitutional carry means that criminals are able to carry firearms with impunity, or that all regulations have been abolished. Consider how many times you are informed, as an aside, that the Second Amendment has been misinterpreted, or that it was never supposed to apply to individuals in the first instance. It’s remarkable.
It’s typical, too. Increasingly, stories about gun laws in America resemble dispatches from an alternate universe—one in which the Second Amendment does not mean what it says; in which the advent of “shall-issue” concealed carry never happened; in which permitless carry remains a fringe and untested idea; in which the massive increase in the number of concealed carriers coincided with an increase, rather than a precipitous drop, in crime; in which gun ownership remains the preserve of a handful of white men; and in which states such as Texas and Georgia, rather than states such as California and New York, are the outliers.
Contrast the manner in which the press habitually treats the gun laws of, say, Illinois or New Jersey, to how they treat the gun laws of, say, Arizona or Maine. If one were to take these various descriptions at face value, one would be forgiven for concluding that Illinois and New Jersey were “normal,” while Arizona and Maine represented outliers. But that is entirely false.
Examine any area of the law you wish, and you will find that the very opposite is true: the states that are cast as “extreme” are in the supermajority, and the states that are cast as “mainstream” are outré. There is nothing “extreme” about the states with permitless carry, as 25 out of 50 states have such laws. There is nothing “extreme” about the states that refuse to prohibit or tightly regulate the most-commonly owned rifles in America, as 42 of the 50 so refuse. There is nothing “extreme” about the states that decline to limit the size of magazines, as 41 of the 50 make this choice. There is nothing “extreme” about the states that allow their residents to buy firearms without first obtaining a purchase permit, as this describes 40 of the 50. There is nothing “extreme” about the states that have rejected so-called “universal background checks,” as 34 of the 50 have issued that rejection. As for the inclusion of a state-level right to keep and bear arms, 45 of the 50 states have adopted such measures, and one of those, Iowa, added its own version as recently as November 2022, when nearly 66% of the votes cast supported it. It is the five that lack such protections—California, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York—that are unusual.
There is nothing “extreme” about gun owners, either. It is not true that more guns equal more crime—as the extraordinary drop in crime between 1990 and 2020 (during which time Americans bought more than 200 million guns) neatly shows. It is not true that concealed carriers represent a risk to the general public, as data from Florida and Texas showing that carriers are more law-abiding than the police serves to illustrate. And it is not true that the enormous number of private citizens who own firearms in the United States have nefarious motives in their hearts. Day in, day out, more than 100 million Americans exercise their Second Amendment rights without anyone even noticing. They hunt, they practice at the range, they carry openly and concealed, they keep their firearms at home for self-defense and they harm nobody.
And yet they continue to be vilified as “extremists.”
It does not take too deep a dive into any of the most-popular arguments for gun control to sense that, at their root, there lies a deep mistrust of the law-abiding citizenry. Contrary to the insinuations of the press, the key debates over the regulation of firearms do not pertain to the ideal set of laws that ought to bind criminals, but to the ideal set of laws that ought to bind everyone else. As a matter of elementary fact, there is no sizeable contingent of Americans opposed to the laws that prohibit criminals from possessing and using firearms; where Americans disagree—and where the pro-Second Amendment majority departs from the gun-control minority—is what the law should say about the people who haven’t done anything wrong.
For a useful illustration of this, consider the panicked response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Bruen, in which the Court told the seven states that were continuing to resist “shall-issue” concealed carry (or constitutional carry) that the Second Amendment prevents them from picking and choosing who may be issued a permit on the basis of anything other than wholly objective grounds. In his statement reacting to the case, President Joe Biden (D) said he was “deeply disappointed,” and expressed his vexation that, henceforth, states would be prohibited from determining “who may purchase or possess weapons.” But, of course, Bruen did not prevent the states from doing any such thing. On the contrary: post-Bruen, as pre-Bruen, both the states and the federal government are allowed to exclude American citizens from exercising the right to keep and bear arms if, for example, they have been convicted of a violent crime. What Bruen removed was exactly what it should have removed—the power of the states or the federal government to block American citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights on subjective, pretextual or non-categorical grounds. Or, to put it another way: Bruen required that the right to keep and bear arms be treated as a right, rather than as a privilege.
Why did this so upset President Biden? The only plausible answer is that Biden believes that non-criminal gun owners are a threat. In his statement, he contended that Americans should be required to demonstrate “need” before they are allowed to carry firearms. But this represents a wholly unacceptable inversion of the American ideal, which holds that all men are created equal and demands that each and every one of them is entitled to the blessings of liberty until, by virtue of being convicted of a terrible crime, they set themselves outside of civil society. The Second Amendment refers to “the people.” It does not refer to “some people” or “a handful of people” or “the people the president happens to like” and, as with the rest of the U.S. Bill of Rights, it most certainly does not imply that those who wish to take advantage of its protections are “extremists” who need coddling and superintending by the state.
It is not true that more guns equal more crime, as the extraordinary drop in crime from 1990 to 2020 showed.
This same ugly mistrust sits beneath “gun-free zones,” which, however you try to slice it, are justified by the ridiculous assumption that it is the sort of people who obey signs who are the problem. And it sits beneath the growing insistence from anti-gun extremists that there is “no such thing as a good guy with a gun”—and that, as a matter of fact, all gun owners are brainwashed time-bombs just waiting to go off.
Which, of course, they are not. This should be abundantly obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to current affairs over the last three or four decades. That, even now, the press and the gun-control movement (but I repeat myself) persist in the conviction that the status quo in the vast majority of states is “extremist,” while the draconian rules in a handful of outlier states are “normal,” should tell us something important about where they are coming from.
There is only one way that one can look at the United States and conclude that the states that are constantly being admonished by the courts for their zealotry are the conventional ones, and that is to stick your fingers in your ears and refuse to open your mind in any way. The cartoonized version of the American gun owner that is peddled by the gun-control movement cannot survive contact with an actual American gun owner. The characterization of “shall-issue” and constitutional-carry states as dangerous outliers cannot survive a brief review of the laws as they actually exist—or of the data that shows that those laws have had no ill effects whatsoever. The conviction that heavily regulated states, such as Illinois, represent the benchmark to which all others should aspire cannot survive the simple compare-and-contrast that reveals Illinois, and not its neighbors, to be the aberration.
Ultimately, the American gun-control movement is firmly stuck in the past, uttering warnings that have been disproven again and again and making declarations that are belied by the numbers. What they cast as extreme is now quotidian; what they deem risky has been proven not to be; the hellscape they enjoy prophesying has not come to fruition.
The trouble for them is, more and more, the people are noticing.