Data On Florida Handguns Too Limited To Predict Trend, Officials Say
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ The percentage of killings committed with handguns in Florida rose slightly in the first month after the state liberalized the licensing of concealed firearms, state figures show.
But most observers said the figures were too limited to show a trend toward more handgun homicides, something opponents of the law had predicted.
″It would require a period of time before we have sufficient data to establish a trend,″ said Stewart Schurr, an information specialist for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The law, which took effect Oct. 1, took away the counties’ power to issue or withhold licenses for concealed firearms and gave it to the state. It also simplified requirements for obtaining a permit.
The law unintentionally eliminated a ban, in force since 1893, on carrying weapons in the open. The Legislature hastily approved a bill to restore the restriction, and Gov. Bob Martinez signed it into law Oct. 9.
Preliminary statistics collected by the Department of Law Enforcement show 43 percent of the homicides committed in October were carried out with handguns, compared with 39 percent statewide during the first nine months of the year.
The figures are based on the 92 homicides in October for which the agency had collected information on the type of murder weapon, Schurr said.
Forty of the homicides were committed with handguns, according to Schurr. There were 106 killings in October and 987 in the previous nine months.
Both law enforcement officials and gun-rights activists, who said they planned to monitor handgun violence to determine the effect of the law, were cautious about interpreting the October figures.
″This may well be a cause, at least a contributing cause of handgun violence, but I’d have to see the figures over a period of five or six months,″ said Charles Salerno, executive secretary of the statewide Fraternal Order of Police.
″I don’t know that one month is really a valid testing period to say that (the law and handgun violence) are related,″ he said.
The head of the Florida Police Chiefs Association dismissed the October figures.
″I don’t think one month in any statistic is a valid indicator of what’s going to happen,″ said William Liquori, also chief of police in Altamont Springs.
Marion Hammer, executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, said she thought the law had ″absolutely nothing″ to do with any change in homicide patterns. Her group had backed the measure.
″It has more to do with the fact that we have a drug problem, and especially a problem with crack cocaine,″ Ms. Hammer told The Florida Times- Union and Jacksonville Journal.
Handguns were used in about 38 percent of the killings committed in Florida between 1983 and 1986, although the frequency was substantially higher during the early 1980s, according to state figures.
Figures on aggravated assault and robbery showed little or no change in the frequency with which firearms were used in October compared with the first nine months of the year.
Critics of the law had claimed that violence would skyrocket because the looser restrictions on concealed weapons would allow inexperienced or reckless gun owners to be armed in public.
Since Oct. 1, about 12,000 permits for concealed weapons have been issued by the Department of State’s licensing division, according to the division’s head, David Register. These permit-holders include the approximately 10,000 people statewide who held county-issued licenses and had to apply for the new state permits.