Florida Open Carry aims for change in gun laws

Special to The News-Journal
July 4, 2010 12:05 AM

Sean Caranna, founder of Florida Open Carry, fishes Saturday one of few places people may carry unconcealed guns. N-J photo

PORT ORANGE -- Sean Caranna didn't pull his .40-caliber pistol while he fished Saturday morning at Dunlawton Causeway Park.

Nearby, Karl Brown didn't draw the 9mm strapped to his waist. Kevin Green didn't even touch his .357 revolver, holstered on his right hip.

But all three men, proud gun owners and members of the grass-roots organization Florida Open Carry, were openly armed at the pier at 9 a.m., part of their campaign to restore the right to carry an unconcealed firearm anytime in Florida.

"If you don't fight for the rights you got, you lose 'em all," Brown, a Deltona gun owner, said before he started fishing.

The fishing pier represents one of the few places people may carry unconcealed firearms in Florida, where state law essentially prohibits open carrying. The law has a few exceptions, including an allowance for people who are target shooting, hunting, fishing or camping (or traveling to or from one of those activities) to openly carry a gun.

"It's pretty much been interpreted as directly to and from," Caranna said. "If you make a stop at Walmart on the way to pick up bait, well, you're not fishing."

Thus you'd be breaking the law with a gun on your hip. But Caranna, the organization's founder and a former Army infantryman, contends that limit (similar laws are on the books in Texas and Illinois) infringes on his constitutional right to bear arms.

A Florida concealed carry permit costs $112 plus the cost of fingerprinting, which Caranna equates to a sort of poll tax -- a fee to exercise a guaranteed right.

Saturday's fishing event was a small Independence Day weekend celebration, with the three men on one pier and a few others who Caranna said showed up later at another pier nearby. Two Port Orange police officers stationed themselves in the parking lot -- Caranna requested them -- in case an alarmed passer-by called 911 to report there were gunmen fishing. One officer politely declined to comment on the open carry issue.

Brown, who said his wife recently was mugged in an Orlando mall parking lot, said the seconds it takes to retrieve and aim a concealed firearm can be costly during a confrontation with an attacker, and "in this county, you can get a pizza delivered faster than 9-1-1 response."

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has opposed open-carry movements across the U.S. and recently opened a petition to demand coffee giant Starbucks ban guns in all its shops.

The campaign's website describes open carrying as "inherently threatening and intimidating," especially in retail stores where other customers see a gun and call police, "creating a volatile and potentially dangerous situation."

Caranna said absent gun permits, background checks during the firearm purchasing process keep criminals and people who have been deemed mentally incompetent from owning guns.

"Today we got lucky. Today we got to carry a cop," Caranna said, nodding toward the officers. When they're not at your side, he said, "you take the wrong turn down the wrong street, you're going to be real inadequate."