Florida Firearms Law, Use & Ownership
By Jon Gutmacher
Retail Price: $34.95 paperback, 6x9, 342 pages with full index in addition to table of contents
Reviewed by Gila Hayes
In rewriting his textbook on Florida gun law, attorney and author Jon Gutmacher poured 40 years experience as a criminal trial attorney, firearms instructor, prosecutor and police advisor into the latest edition of his authoritative Florida gun law book, expanding it into a large reference tool that also addresses Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina and federal gun law.
Gutmacher kicks off his gun laws book with discussion of the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights, and how the Constitution’s framework influenced the landmark case law Heller and McDonald provides. He moves through these topics at a brisk pace, and soon outlines FL’s preemption statute, which provides uniformity to their state gun laws. He explains changes to FL law that may be void under the preemption statute, but is careful to point out where enforcement remains unclear in the absence of test cases.
He tackles U.S. v Lopez and the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 and at least three related cases spawned by that issue, returning to school zone restrictions several times throughout the book. He explains the federal provision allowing licensed concealed carry on National Park Service land, and includes a very clear definition of the prohibition about carrying into Park Service buildings. In both examples, by outlining specific laws and cases that subsequently decided how the law was to be enforced, Gutmacher gives all the details needed for the dedicated researcher to learn more through further study on their own.
After quite a dissertation about who can legally purchase firearms, the author addresses concealed weapon licensing, starting with the bold statement,
“Having a Concealed Weapons License (CWL) is the smartest thing anyone can do if they own or carry any type of weapon, whatsoever!
If you only have a pocketknife–get it [a CWL]! If you have a firearm–you’re nuts not to have it, even if you never take it out of the house!” He supports his assertion, arguing that the CWL holder encounters fewer restrictions on loaded guns in various modes of transportation, earns the benefit of the doubt when interacting with law enforcement, and in light of the huge number of FL CWLs issued, becomes part of a huge voting demographic.
Gutmacher discusses at length where a license allows concealed carry and where it is prohibited. LEOSA (the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act) is also covered. While some readers may prefer a short list of “dos” and “don’ts,” I think Gutmacher deserves a lot of credit for explaining where the law is not clear, which he often prefaces by writing, “I do not know,” “there is no case law, so it is uncertain,” “the statute is so poorly written that nobody really knows,” or “this is only my opinion…”
Unfortunately, laws do become contradictory and confusing when amendments to existing law are not in harmony with earlier laws on to which the amendment was grafted. Today’s gun laws are the amalgamation of laws and amendments dating to an earlier century and what may be entirely legal is not always sensible. Gutmacher’s commentary about openly transporting a shotgun or rifle in a vehicle illustrates how armed citizens need to distinguish between “smart” and “legal.” He notes that while a rifle transported openly in a vehicle’s back seat might not be a problem in rural FL, to do so in an urban area only invites trouble.
The topic of guns in cars introduces the question of armed travel outside FL. The armed traveler who is legal inside FL might find him or herself in violation of GA law, Gutmacher illustrates, using the opportunity to also clarify federal law about interstate transport of firearms. He outlines the difficulties ensuing from travelers possessing firearms while going through states like New York and New Jersey, where law enforcement may arrest travelers in possession of firearms, only to have the citizen acquitted by a court later.
It’s good information, and in our mobile society, a point that armed citizens greatly need to understand. Carrying a gun on tribal lands, in seaports, mental health treatment facilities, private businesses and their parking areas, and even Disney World are covered, as well.
Combining both FL’s law and the federal restrictions on short-barreled rifles and shotguns, automatic weapons, and guns termed Any Other Weapon by the National Firearms Act, consumes a number of pages that will help firearms enthusiasts understand what’s legal and what requires special permission. The author gives examples of how easy it is to misunderstand some of the NFA’s restrictions. These, along with other offenses, are explained in Gutmacher’s chapter on common gun crimes. Possession, display and use of guns, knives, ammunition–even grenades and other destructive devices–all receive detailed coverage.
Gutmacher dedicates an entire chapter to laws affecting children and guns imposed by both FL and the federal government. Brace yourself: in FL even paintball, Airsoft and BB guns can only be used by children under adult supervision. Other areas of concern include leaving loaded guns where a child accesses them, guns, pocketknives, and other self-defense equipment on school grounds, teaching children how to be safe with guns, and a lot more. It is a good chapter.
As an advocate of layered defenses–possessing more than just a gun for defense–I appreciated Gutmacher’s section on FL case law explaining legalities of carrying the simple pocketknife. He also discusses laws about possession and use of electronic weapons, defense sprays and other intermediate defenses. He later dedicates a lengthy chapter to the related topic of self-defense laws, explaining when the State of Florida allows you to use force to defend yourself, your family, or your property. He reluctantly addresses citizen’s arrest, and explains what constitutes deadly force, non-deadly force, the initial aggressor rule, and gives a historical perspective to castle doctrine and stand your ground laws. His commentary about the legal aftermath of self defense is spot on including advice about interacting with police, an attorney’s role in protecting your legal rights, and more.
With church security a realistic concern, Gutmacher’s explanation of FL law’s requirements for licensure of even volunteer armed security teams will prove useful. He outlines specific laws restricting guns, caliber and even ammunition for security staff. He adds that with no prohibition against individual worshipers carrying defense guns, he believes it’s a good idea.
Laws, restrictions and licensure to sell guns and ammunition are the topic of one chapter, while another explains the law restricting a private individual manufacturing firearms for resale and the assault weapons ban. He also explains the laws that restrict shipping firearms and cites both federal and FL law governing bequests, private party sales, getting a gun to and back from a manufacturer for repair and other common pitfalls.
Gun and self-defense laws from Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina all get a good synopsis in a chapter Gutmacher authored in cooperation with attorneys from each of those states. Our Network Affiliated Attorney John R. Monroe co-authors the Georgia section, and Dr. Stephen Fulton Shaw, our Affiliated Attorney from South Carolina, does the same for the section discussing his state’s laws.
Given the many, many layers of restrictions, Florida Firearms Law, Use & Ownership is demanding reading. The author’s illustrative stories from actual cases, coupled with his wry humor (as in his discussion of train travelers checking weapons in with a live Amtrak agent) lightens an otherwise dry topic, but realistically there just is no way to make a book about the law read like a story. For readers preferring a more cut and dried approach, Gutmacher often concludes a complicated discussion with a table or chart synopsizing the “dos” and “don’ts” in the law under discussion.
Florida Firearms Law, Use & Ownership is a long and extremely detailed book, but well worth the time and effort to read it from cover to cover. You can learn more about Jon Gutmacher and buy his book at http://www.floridafirearmslaw.com.