Whether you’re in line at the coffee shop or scrolling on Facebook, the gun debate has taken center stage. And like most disputes, our dialogue has been paralyzed by partisan extremes — with some calling for complete disregard to the 2nd Amendment, and others willing to bypass vital processes before gun ownership.

Many are willing to engage and debate without the facts, particularly when it comes to our gun laws right here at home. Back in March 2016 the Weekly published a three part series looking at the gun culture in the Keys. To follow up, let’s look at how some of the numbers and crime statistics have changed in two years.

Since it’s impossible to document how many people own guns, although statistics say there are roughly 300 million in circulation in the United States, a good gauge is the number of lawful concealed weapons permits active in Florida. According to the Department of Agriculture, at present there are 9,563 permits issued in Monroe County, up from 8,120 in March 2016 – a 17 percent increase. Now instead of 10 percent of Monroe County residents having a permit, it is up to 13 percent.

Overall in Florida, there are 1,861,076 issued permits –a 16 percent increase from 2016’s total of 1,598,213. Florida is ranked number 1 in the U.S. with concealed weapons permits, ahead of Pennsylvania and Texas. Growth has been steady over the past decade, from 511,868 in 2008 to the 1.8 million today, a 263 percent increase, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Has the increased amount of guns affected Key West crime? Yes, but not in a way that resonates with headlines.

“Crime in Key West has been dropping continuously over the past few years, and it dropped by nearly 18 percent again in 2017,” said Alyson Crean, Key West public information officer. “The reduction is due, in large part, to a 19.5 percent reduction in non-violent crime. Violent crime rates remained about the same as last year.”

While violent crime rates have remained the same, local statics indicate that crimes involving guns have steadily increased. Between 1995 and 2015, an average of 3.33 police calls per year in Key West involved either a rifle, handgun or shot gun. (It should be noted some reports were simply a lost or stolen firearm.) But in 2016 the number jumped to 15 reports per year and by 2017, 47 reports a year reportedly involved a Gun. Of the three murders committed last year in Key West, one was committed with a gun.

And while we know residents are arming themselves, questions remain on whether tourists should be allowed to carry concealed in the Keys, as well. Florida does recognize other states’ conceal carry permits, but carriers must abide by Florida’s regulations – not their home state’s.

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 passed in the U.S. House with a 231-198 vote. It’s now being reviewed in the U.S. Senate and, if passed, could allow all U.S. citizens to conceal a weapon in any city, town, or state (much like a U.S. driver’s license entitles citizens to drive anywhere in the country). However, not all states require permits or have rigorous permit processes like Florida, including background checks and gun safety training.

According to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, 12 states have no requirements for concealed firearms and their residents would be able to be legally armed in the Keys.

“Lawmakers have not realized the consequences,” said U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who voted against the measure. “It goes against the 10th amendment, taking away power from the states. We need to do better to keep guns out of the hands of people who will do harm and this law forces us Floridians to adopt weaker standards.”

Sen. Marco Rubio has co-sponsored the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, while Sen. Bill Nelson has spoken against it.

After the Parkland School shooting, Curbelo said, “Fortunately, we are working to strengthen common sense laws, not curtail them, and this act goes against that.”

The Parkland tragedy has ignited more legislative discussion than in recent times and awakened the nation to dialogue that is seemingly trending towards bipartisan progress. The Keys Weekly will continue to monitor local gun trends and laws in 2018.

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