One of George Zimmerman’s terms for making bail after his arrest for allegedly pointing a shotgun at his girlfriend mean he cannot access any firearms. But Florida law should have required officials to suspend his gun license regardless of the bail hearing, even if determining whether officials are following that law is difficult in Florida.
According to a Florida statute that states the Department of Agriculture “shall, upon notification by a law enforcement agency, a court, or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and subsequent written verification, suspend a license or the processing of an application for a license if the licensee or applicant is arrested or formally charged with a crime that would disqualify such person from having a license under this section, until final disposition of the case.” Zimmerman’s arrest for aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, is a disqualifying crime.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees concealed carry weapons permits, could not confirm any details about Zimmerman’s license because an individual’s information is exempt from public record.
Enforcing the statute is another matter entirely. Many states issue concealed carry permits through a law enforcement agency. In Florida, it’s a civil agency, Agriculture, which creates an extra reporting step that leaves room for miscommunication and mistakes. A 2007 Sun-Sentinel investigation found that concealed carry permits had been given to “1,400 people who pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies, 216 people with outstanding warrants, 128 people with active domestic violence injunctions and six registered sex offenders.” While felons are prohibited from owning weapons, gaps in background checks likewise led to3,479 arrests of felons carrying illegal guns in 2012. In fact, Florida’s lax laws means it often supplies out-of-state permits for people who would be rejected in their home state.
In 25 states outside Florida, a person with Zimmerman’s record — his shooting Trayvon Martin and history of domestic abuse, and two incidents of domestic violence just this year — would likely not be eligible to carry a concealed weapon in the first place.
When Zimmerman was charged for Martin’s death, activists demanded that Governor Rick Scott suspend Zimmerman’s concealed carry permit. Scott’s administration refused, arguing that “short of a permit holder being convicted of a felony, the state does not have the authority to revoke a permit.” One condition of Zimmerman’s bail had been that he could not access guns or alcohol.
Since he was acquitted of charges over Martin’s death, Zimmerman legally bought himself a new assault rifle and shotgun that he reportedly has had with him in the car, in his holster, and in his home.
Since writing this blog, the Department of Agriculture has confirmed that it moves to suspend a license for permit holders charged with felonies once the department learns of the charges. License holders receive a notice of their suspension by mail.