(CN) – The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld state restrictions on openly carrying a firearm, affirming the law does not violate citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Florida allows individuals to carry firearms in public, but requires that they conceal the weapon. State law also requires gun owners have a so-called “carry-conceal” license before they take a firearm out in public.
However, the law allows for certain recreational exceptions such as while hunting, fishing or camping.
Writing for the majority in the 4-2 decision, Justice Barbara Pariente said the state “has an important interest in regulating firearms as a matter of public safety, and that Florida’s Open Carry Law is substantially related to this interest.”
“The law regulates only one manner of bearing arms and does not impair the exercise of the fundamental right to bear arms,” she continued in her 47-page decision.
The case was brought by Dale Lee Norman, a St. Lucie County resident, who faced a second-degree misdemeanor charge after he walked down a road with handgun holstered to his hip. Norman filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the unconstitutionality of Florida’s open carry law, which was passed in 1987.
The case reached the Fourth District Court of Appeals, which ruled the current law adheres to the Second Amendment, because most citizens can still carry a firearm in public with a concealed carry permit.
“No empirical evidence suggests, in any way, that Florida concealed carry permits are unduly restricted to only a few people, such that a citizen’s right to lawfully carry a firearm is illusory,” wrote Appellate Judge Mark Klingensmith in his 2015 opinion.
More than 1.7 million Floridians hold a concealed carry license. The state must issue the license after the completion of a brief gun safety course, unless the applicant is a felon or has been committed to a mental institution. Justice Pariente pointed to the non-discretionary nature of the licenses.
“Florida’s ‘shall-issue’ licensing scheme provides almost every individual the ability to carry a concealed weapon,” she wrote.
Justices Jorge Labarga, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis affirmed the open carry restrictions. Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, considered the more conservative wing of the court, dissented. (Newly-appointed Justice Alan Lawson did not participate.)
In the dissent, Justice Canady wrote “Florida’s generally applicable ban on the open carrying of firearms is unjustified on any ground that can withstand even intermediate scrutiny.”
Canady pointed to earlier U.S. regulations that prohibited concealed weapons, but allowed open carried firearms.
Canady wrote that the Second Amendment “is best understood historically as a specific right to carry arms openly. The [U.S. Supreme] Court’s broad characterization of the Second Amendment right as ‘the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense’ cannot be detached from this historical context.”
In a brief to the court, state attorneys defended the open carry restrictions as reducing gun violence.
“An armed attacker engaged in the commission of a crime, for example, might be more likely to target an open carrier than a concealed carrier for the simple reason that a visibly-armed citizen poses a more obvious danger to the attacker than a citizen with a hidden firearm,” the brief stated.
But Justice Canady disagreed with this notion.
“These reasons may not be totally irrational, but they do not provide any substantial justification for the ban on open carrying,” he wrote. “There is no substantial link between the ban and public safety, and the state’s speculation is no substitute for such a link.”
Last year, Florida lawmakers attempted to change the state’s gun laws to allow open carry in most situations. The measure passed the state House, but stalled in the Senate. This year, Sen. Greg Steube re-introduced the bill along with others that would allow concealed carry holders to bring weapons to currently-banned places, such as airports, schools and government buildings.
Eric Friday of the pro-gun rights group Florida Carry, who represented Norman, was not immediately available for comment. The state’s Attorney General Office could also not be immediately reached for comment.