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Florida’s Gun-Free Zones Could Be Eliminated; Opponents Call That Madness

If only more people were packing loaded weapons, there would be fewer mass shootings like Orlando’s Pulse nightclub massacre and the carnage committed by another lone gunman at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January.

That’s the thinking behind legislation proposed in the Florida House and Senate —HB 803/SB 908 — to do away with most of the state’s gun-free zones.

But Patti Brigham, co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, called the proposal to allow “guns everywhere absurd and incredibly dangerous.”

“And just why would we want permit holders to take guns into polling places? These gun-happy legislators have gone too far,” Brigham said in a statement. “They are endangering the public, not protecting it.”

The bills would allow concealed-carry gun owners to carry guns in places where they are now forbidden: airports, schools, college campuses, police stations and polling places.

Both sides of the argument claim to have the facts on their side.

Opponents of the legislation point to an Everytown for Gun Safety study released in August 2016 that showed only 17 of the 133 killings that occurred between January 2009 and July 2015 — and were classified as "mass murders" by the FBI – happened in gun-free zones.

However, the Crime Prevention Research Center countered with its own analysis of mass shootings in America that showed 98.4 percent of mass shootings from 1950 through July 2016 occurred in gun-free zones.

Politifact Florida pointed out that the two sides in this debate arrive at different conclusions, in large part because they disagree over the definition of just what is a “mass shooting.”

“Our assessment is that it is difficult to draw broad conclusions about the motivations of the perpetrators of mass shootings or whether they are influenced by gun restrictions,” Politifact Florida concluded.

Numbers and studies aside, Rep. Don Hahnfeldt (R), the sponsor of House Bill 803, told the Miami Herald that gun-free zones “have been a failure” and made “businesses more susceptible to harm and damage by an ill-intended perpetrator.”

Hahnfeldt said HB 803/SB 908 would give people in what are now gun-free zones an opportunity to be better prepared and protect themselves if anyone started shooting.

“So that maybe the next Pulse, the next Fort Lauderdale ... may not happen,” Hahnfeldt said.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R) supports the proposals. He said most mass shootings happen in these gun-free zones.

He agrees with the argument that mass shooters pick locations like the Pulse nightclub because they know none of their victims will be armed.

"Most of these mass shootings take place in arenas where you're not allowed to have a concealed weapons permit," Corcoran told CBS4 in Miami.

Sen. Dennis Baxley (R), who is sponsoring SB 908, said the legislation would also “test the appetite for legislators to eliminate the illusion of gun-free zones.”