Florida-bound, Canadian snowbirds may feel a little safer – or not – knowing that if they wind up in hospital, the patient beside them might just have a Glock machine pistol tucked under his pillow.
It's the latest legislative shoot-out in the long-running saga over what the framers of America's Constitution meant by the "right of the people to keep and bear Arms"
In Florida, it's against the law to pack a pistol to school or take your rifle to a city council meeting or while visiting someone in prison. But taking the Glock to the maternity ward or keeping your pistol by your bedside after surgery is perfectly legal. That's true for gun-toting doctors and nurses as well as patients and hospital visitors. The 2nd Amendment, the right to bear arms, applies without restriction in Florida hospitals and nursing homes.
So some Florida legislators decided to try and close what seemed an obvious omission in the state's "safety zone" exclusions in its Concealed Weapons Law.
Not so fast.
Gun owners, particularly those with coveted permits to carry hidden handguns, were quickly up in arms.
"If anyone has been to Bayfront hospital in St.Pete they would understand the need to carry a gun, particularly to the emergency room at night," wrote one on the Florida Shooters Network after the Miami Herald published a story about the proposed legislative fix. Other helpful comments explained what to do if ambulance staff tried to take away one's concealed gun on the ride to the emergency room.
Marion Hammer, Florida spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, perhaps the most powerful domestic lobby group in the United States, warned lawmakers against meddling. The "NRA would oppose a bill that panders to the anti-gun political agenda of South Florida organizations," she told the Herald.
Not all gun-owners would be affected. Only those with a so-called CWP – or concealed weapons permit – can currently take their guns anywhere, except to the shortlist including prisons, police stations and schools. The CWP debate reverberates far beyond state borders. For instance, disputes over the right of a citizen who has a permit from one state to 'bear arms' in another have spawned hundreds of lawsuits.
Handgun bans in cities like Washington DC and Chicago have been overturned and gun-rights advocates have pushed back on other curbs. There is, for instance, a spirited debate on whether armed students could have prevented – or limited the death toll – at mass killings like the Virginia Tech massacre.
At least four states; Arizona, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee have passed laws explicitly permitting gun owners with 'concealed' permits to take loaded weapons into bars. In another two dozen states, existing laws seem to permit the practice.
In some states, buying a powerful handgun requires little more than cash and filling out a form. Others require those seeking a concealed weapons permit to pass rigorous background checks and prove they know how to handle a firearm. A patchwork of reciprocity deals means some states accept permits issued by others.
Meanwhile, those calling for a gun-ban in Florida hospitals are staring down the wrong end of a constitutional barrel.