Florida's Forthcoming Gun Fun

06.21.2005 | George Zucker | Cultural Affairs | 3 Comments

Back when in Florida a man’s home was his castle and a bad guy who broke into it could be shot. But the lord of the castle faced jail time if the intruder was killed on the wrong side of the moat. Outside the castle, the law said you better just run and hide if someone threatened you — the use of deadly force for self-defense did not carry over to the street.
   
Now under a bill signed by Governor Jeb Bush, endangered Floridians can shoot-to-kill anywhere their life is threatened. “It’s common sense to allow people to defend themselves,” Bush said before signing the bill, which had been passed unanimously by the state Senate.  But critics of the so-called “castle-doctrine” law, backed by the National Rifle Association, are afraid it will turn Florida into the OK Corral, that it is essentially “a license to kill.” The new gun law becomes effective October 1.
   
Too bad old Al, my mother’s friend, is no longer with us. He would have loved it. All this new fuss recalls the ruckus another controversial gun law caused in Florida nearly 20 years ago when it was found to contain a loophole that legalized the carrying of unconcealed weapons. It triggered a gun-buying spree across the Sunshine State much like the one that people fear this new law will create, hence the heavy NRA support.
   
In 1986, restaurant and tavern owners had to put up signs, “No Guns Allowed.” According to published reports, one man walked into a pawn shop wearing an empty holster and said it was time to fill it. A nervous 7-Eleven clerk called police when two men walked in wearing guns on their hips. Within a week, 1,691 people applied for gun permits in St. Pete alone. Requests for applications streamed into Tallahassee at a rate of 1,800 a day. To quell the public outcry, the Florida legislature sent Gov. Bob Martinez a new law making it illegal to carry guns openly.
   
But it was too late to save Al, my mother’s old friend who was among the newly lawful gun bearers. Al was the elder eccentric at mom’s condominium in St. Petersburg. Al kept his eye on things. When I first saw Al, he was patrolling the condo grounds, stopping every now and then to make hushed reports into his unlit pipe, which he held like a microphone. Al claimed he was on secret assignment for the FBI.    
   
“Too bad about Al,” my mother said. “They had to evict him.”
   
Did the neighbors finally object to his walking around, talking into his pipe?
   
“Oh no,” mom said. “We liked having someone on the lookout. The problem began the night Al and his wife went to a restaurant and he handed a note to the waitress, saying he was an FBI agent and someone had planted a bomb there. Well, the manager cleared the place and called the cops. They put Al in the patrol car, then went looking for his wife. They found her sitting alone in the empty dining room, smiling broadly and wondering what all the fuss was about.”
   
So then the condo people asked Al and his wife to move?
   
“Nope. We think it was the new gun law and all the talk about people carrying guns, because Al started taking a gun on his rounds.”
   
So the gun finally spooked the neighbors?
   
Not really, mother said. It spooked the nocturnal anglers and some smooching couples at the small lake behind the condo. “Al began getting up in the middle of the night to make his rounds,” mom explained. “He was always hearing sounds. He’d wake his wife up and tell her, ‘The English are coming!’ Then he’d grab his flashlight and gun and go out.”
   
Condo neighbors felt Al was more on the lookout for spooning couples then marauding Englishmen. Al certainly caught enough in flagrante delicto to spoil the lake as a safe trysting place. “One night Al went to the lake at 3 a.m. and flushed some fishermen, waving his gun. Scared the daylights out of them,” mom said. “They evicted Al after that.”

The new gun law was quickly amended, but it was too late for Al and his wife. Mom never saw them again.



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