As many concealed carriers have discovered to their disappointment, sometimes the last people to find out how the gun laws in their state are meant to be enforced are the police charged with enforcing those gun laws. Recently, a Florida appellate court spelled it out on behalf of their state’s citizens, stating that a brief glimpse of a civilian’s gun isn’t enough to arrest that citizen.
The background of the ruling was a stop and arrest made by Deputy Beach of the Escambia County, Florida Sheriff’s Office. He testified that while he was at a motel parking lot at 8:30 in the morning, he noticed a truck with a translucent cover over the license plate. A man was sitting in the driver’s seat and the officer approached him to “discuss” the license plate cover. The man, Stanley Kilburn, got out of the truck holding a knife, but when he saw the officer, he placed the knife inside the truck and raised his hands. Once Kilburn raised his hands, Deputy Beach was able to see the butt of a handgun sticking out of his waistband, and immediately detained and searched him. Deputy Beach did not testify as to how long the gun was visible other than to say that it “was concealed, but not really concealed.”
It was not until after Kilburn was handcuffed, secured in the police vehicle and given a Miranda warning that Deputy Beach questioned Kilburn and asked whether he had a concealed-weapons license. He did not, and was charged with unlicensed carrying of a concealed weapon, Deputy Beach specifically testified at the trial court hearing that he did not have reasonable suspicion of any criminal activity by Kilburn (past, present or impending); the sole cause of the detention and arrest was the partially visible firearm.
Now, clearly, Kilburn’s no angel here: He was in fact carrying that firearm illegally. However, at the point that the officer made the arrest, the officer had not yet determined whether or not Kilburn had a CCW permit, so at that time the only piece of information he had that caused him to make the arrest was that he had seen that flash of a gun butt. Here’s where we get to the interesting part about the Florida appellate court ruling.
A critical factor in the court’s decision, though, was the huge number of persons licensed to carry concealed firearms in the state. Unlike the trial court’s speculations, the appellate court determined that as of January 2020, over two million residents were licensed to carry concealed weapons, representing over 13% of Floridians over 21 years old. Even so, this number did not include those entitled to carry without a license, such as law enforcement officers, and those carrying under a different license (private investigators and security guards). As emphasized by the court, these numbers meant that “approximately one out of every seven persons over the age of twenty-one may lawfully carry a concealed weapon in Florida. The thought that these millions of people are subject to seizure by law enforcement until their licenses are verified is antithetical to our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. No court would allow law enforcement to stop any motorist in order to check for a valid driver’s license.”
So, what we have here is the Florida courts telling law enforcement, “Gun ownership and lawful concealed carry is so popular here that simply seeing a gun with no other evidence of criminal activity is not enough for an arrest.” This ruling is excellent news for Second Amendment supporters in Florida (and elsewhere), and has made us all that much safer.
Our appreciation to the NRA, Freedom’s Lodge, and David Bronson for the contents of this article.