Editor’s note: This is three-part series about firearms in the islands. It starts with a look at law enforcement and recent incidents and will also cover gun safety, education and opinion in coming weeks. Stay tuned.]

A look at concealed weapons permits and the safety of police officers

Guns, whether you are for or against them, they exist almost everywhere in the continental United States. Over the past decade in the Florida Keys, more and more guns have entered our news, our stores and our lives across the board. No longer does the use of the word “gun” or “shooting” come solely associated with nefarious behavior of criminals on the mainland. From housewives to tourists, people are packing all up and down the island chain; and with that, instances and choices that can affect the quality of life and safety of our residents.

The Florida Keys presently sport three gun ranges (two public, one private), and five gun shops. But many small businesses and private citizens also have FFL’s (Federal Firearm License) where guns can be sold from businesses or homes.

Monroe County has 8,120 concealed weapons permits as of March 31, 2016, according to the Department of Agriculture statistics, which is the highest per capita for a county in Florida. About 10 percent of Florida Keys residents are able to legally walk around with a gun on their person, concealed.  (In the Keys, there is no “open carry” law that allows gun owners to display their weapon, for instance, in a hip holster.)

Residents and law enforcement have noticed an uptick in crime involving guns in the Keys. (See sidebar). And the national news stories surrounding “stand your ground” challenges on the street and in the court room have made their way in Keys living rooms as matters of debate. Some support an individual’s right to protect themselves under a threat or perceived threat, while others worry what will become of society when individuals can brandish weapons at inappropriate times.

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey and Key West Chief Donie Lee have a lot of insight into what affects gun owners and their choices concerning lawful and unlawful activity.  According to Sheriff Ramsey and Chief Lee, the majority of concealed weapons permit holders rarely commit crimes. Most violent criminal activity with a gun involves career criminals with the intent to do harm. But there are the other instances, when people make bad choices.

“The shooting on Duval Street is a perfect example. My understanding is that he had a concealed carry permit from another state. He was intoxicated and had a firearm, and made a very dangerous, bad choice which had serious consequences,” said Chief Lee.

Sheriff Ramsey has seen a rise in anger and gun usage in the general population especially with road rage and any situation that involves alcohol.

“People are acting without thinking, and the majority of time, here in the Keys, the problem is with alcohol,” said Sheriff Ramsey. “Guns with alcohol, nothing good comes of it. If you are going to drink, leave your gun at home.” Sheriff Ramsey said he is against the idea of open carry laws, but a proponent for lawful gun ownership as a safety measure for our society.

Florida Law states that “discharging a firearm or possessing it loaded in hand, while under the influence of alcohol, any prohibited substance, or prescribed medication is a violation of the law.” Also, carrying a concealed weapon — even with a permit — is forbidden in places such as bars, schools, career centers, hospitals, government buildings, “places of nuisance,” prisons, police stations, and polling places.

“At least, with a permit, we know who these people are, and they’re law abiding. There’s a whole criminal element who carry firearms and don’t have permits, and these people most certainly pose a threat.  That’s why continuous training of police officers is crucial. And that level of caution is why police often get a bad rap for being overzealous,” according to Chief Lee.

The number of concealed weapons permits in the Keys, as well as tourists passing through who might also be carrying, have absolutely made police officers more cautious and aware.

Keys police officers operated under a “mandatory wear” policy, meaning at all times on-duty officers must wear bullet proof vests. Also, since 2005, Key West police officers have had dash cams and as of 2015, they wear body cameras.

“I believe that as a nation we need to enact common sense gun safety regulations: Mandatory training, mental health check, and other precautions to ensure public safety. Gun ownership is an individual choice, and there is a lot that goes into that decision.” — Key West Police Chief Donie Lee

“People forget every action has a reaction. Never bring a gun into a bar; it is a terrible, stupid decision.” — Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey

“Improper exhibition of dangerous weapons or firearms. If any person having or carrying any dirk, sword, sword cane, firearm, electric weapon or device, or other weapon shall, in the presence of one or more persons, exhibit the same in a rude, careless, angry, or threatening manner, not in necessary self-defense, the person so offending shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree,” — Fla. Statute 790.10

Recent incidents involving guns

March 23, 2016

A Sugarloaf man was arrested after he allegedly pointed a gun at a Big Pine couple on a motorcycle in what was described as a road rage incident.

March 21, 2016

Three people were shot at 1 a.m. on Duval Street and one Sugarloaf man after an alleged domestic dispute. The three victims received non-life threatening injuries.

Feb. 24, 2016

A Kentucky man was arrested after he allegedly pointed a gun at the driver and passenger of a truck as he was driving southbound on U.S.1.

Jan. 14, 2016

An Iowa man was arrested after he allegedly pulled a gun on another man staying at the same motel over a dispute regarding cell phone in an outside common area.

Dec. 26, 2015

A Marathon man was arrested for allegedly threatening to shoot two people and firing a rifle in public.

Nov. 15, 2015

A Fort Lauderdale man was arrested after he allegedly fired a gun inside of the Hog Heaven bar in Islamorada. A second man was also arrested at the scene who reportedly ran back to his vehicle and retrieved his gun, then returned to the bar with it.

Oct. 24, 2015

A man shot a deputy on Stock Island. The officer was wearing a bulletproof vest and received minor injuries.

Oct. 15, 2015

A man and a woman were shot to death in their home on Cuba Road in Tavernier.

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