TAMPA — With a backdrop of terrorism in California, mass shootings on college campuses and jihad in Paris, a handful of Florida sheriffs are urging citizens to arm themselves to be the first line of defense in such attacks.
That has outraged gun control advocates, who say the public is in more - not less - danger when there are more guns are on the street.
The debate between gun advocates and gun control supporters got new traction in recent days with some sheriffs suggesting more citizens should carry guns to protect themselves and others in case of terrorist attacks or mass shootings.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey in a video posting on his agency’s Facebook page.
“Like each of you, I’ve had enough of terrorists and others who decide they want to target U.S. citizens because they want to make a statement or get their 15 minutes of fame,” he said. “Now, more than ever before, is the time for law enforcement and citizens to be fully prepared for an attack or an active shooter scenario with the right tools to eliminate or at least disrupt the attack.”
He urged those who are licensed to carry concealed firearms to have their guns with them at all times.
“You are the first line of defense,” he said, “for you, your family and others around you.”
Those who aren’t licensed to carry a concealed firearm should take the class and get certified, he said.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd echoed Ivey’s sentiments.
“I can tell you the probability of needing a firearm is remote,” Judd said Thursday afternoon, “but it’s more important to have a gun in your hand than a cop on the phone.’’
He said those who are comfortable with guns — and can appropriately handle a firearm — should get a gun permit and carry a gun with them.
Judd said mass killers typically take two to four minutes to carry out their plans, while the average time of response of law enforcement is more than five minutes.
“We know that we may get there to mitigate a piece of it, but we will never be there in time to prevent it,” Judd said. “So that means until we arrive, we need the help of the good citizens of the community to protect themselves and to protect others.”
Other sheriffs around the Tampa Bay area were unified in saying they supported the Second Amendment rights of citizens but stopped short of urging people to arm themselves in public.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri a strong opponent of open carry laws, would not comment on statements made by other sheriffs but said he had no problem with people legally and responsibly carrying firearms.
“I’m not and won’t make a call to arms,” he said. “That’s not what I’m saying. I have no issue or concern with any citizen who decides on his or her own that they want to posses and own firearms if they are well trained and it’s done in a reasonable way.’’
Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee was unavailable for comment Thursday but issued a statement saying he “supports any lawful citizen’s right to defend themselves while acting in accordance with Florida state and federal laws.”
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said this:
“I support our citizens’ Second Amendment rights. I also support their right to defend their lives or the lives of others. In critical times such as these, or any other time, our country was founded on the principles that allow our citizens to protect themselves.“
The Florida Sheriff’s Association hasn’t taken a position on the matter, said association spokeswoman Nanette Schimpf.
“It is up to each individual sheriff how he or she would like to educate and communicate on this issue,” she said.
Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair was more outspoken, saying this on his department’s Facebook page:
“If you are certified to carry a gun, I would like to encourage you to do so,” he said. “Those who carry firearms responsibly and are confident in their abilities can — and should — be our first line of defense in an active shooter situation.’’
Blair said about 600 Marion County residents have attended the department’s concealed weapons class, so that “our citizens who want to be armed can lawfully do so.
“Most importantly,” he said, “we make sure these citizens are skilled in firearms tactics so we have capable citizens our in our community who are confident and able to defend themselves and others safely.”
While self defense is the reason for the statements delivered by Ivey, Judd, and Blair, gun-control advocates say having more concealed weapons on the streets can only endanger the public.
The Violence Policy Center, an Washington-based organization that supports strong gun control laws, says the vast majority of shootings by concealed weapons permit holders are homicides, suicides and accidents. A small percentage is in self defense, the center says.
Since 2007, the center has identified at least 579 fatal, non-self defense incidents involving concealed carry permit holders in 38 states, including 74 in Florida. In the 579 shootings, 763 people died, the center’s data shows.
“Our research shows that private citizens with concealed handguns kill far more innocent victims than criminals,” said center spokesman Avery Palmer. “Concealed handgun permit holders were the perpetrators in at least 29 mass shootings since 2007, including four mass shootings in Florida.
“When private citizens are encouraged to carry loaded guns wherever they go,” he said, “our public spaces become less safe.”
At least 17 law enforcement officers died at the hands of concealed carry killers since May 2007, research shows.
“The idea that civilians have the skill to intervene successfully in a mass shooting is a fantasy,” said Palmer, who also said armed bystanders could be mistaken by police for the shooters.