County commissioners can only hope gun-control activists go away
By Suzy Valentine
A group of gun-control activists are targeting travelers at Miami International Airport with leaflets warning them of what the group says are dangerous implications of a new state law, the Miami-Dade County Commission heard last week.
The literature says Florida's Shoot First Law could put visitors at risk. The law, which went into effect Oct. 1, offers broad legal protection to citizens who use firearms to fight off an attack.
The group has chosen Miami's airport as one of its bases because of its high passenger volume. Commissioners, fearing the campaign could hurt the county's tourism industry, concluded there is little they can do to stop the campaign because of freedom-of-speech issues.
The state attorney general's office, meanwhile, has fielded calls from as far away as Canada from tourists concerned by the information being circulated by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said JoAnn Carrin, the office's director of communications.
"This month, (Attorney General) Charlie Crist did a radio show in Canada," she said. "The intention is to encourage snowbirds to continue to come to Florida."
The Brady Campaign has purchased newspaper advertisements in Great Britain, where some residents are reluctant to visit Florida following a spate of shootings in the early 1990s in which some British tourists were killed.
One advertisement in British broadsheet The Guardian on Oct. 15 read: "Thinking about a Florida vacation? A new law in the Sunshine State may encourage Floridians to 'shoot first' when they feel threatened. In Florida, avoid disputes that could escalate into violence. Use special caution in arguing with motorists on Florida roads. Police and prosecutors are concerned about the potential for unnecessary violence."
The last sentence, said Ms. Carrin, is erroneous. "Crime across the state is at a 34-year low," she said, "and this is the 13th year in a row that it has decreased. The law should make life safer.
"Individuals no longer have a duty to retreat but are entitled to protect themselves. The information that is being distributed is inaccurate as far as safety is concerned."
Mr. Crist has no plans to publicly denounce the Brady Campaign, said Ms. Carrin, but is dealing with inquiries individually. "We're not actively involved in countermeasures, but Mr. Crist is actively encouraging tourists to come to the state."
The group also has a Web site and is handing out flyers at several airports across the US.
A statement issued by tourism agency Visit Florida described protester activity as "a politically biased scare tactic."
"A change in the law does not necessarily create a change in behavior," the statement says, "as evidenced by the fact that the group's previous predictions back in 1987 that gun violence would increase after changes to the law have failed to materialize."
Visit Florida credits tourists with being able to see through the campaign. "Americans and international visitors are smart enough to understand the political agenda behind the Brady Campaign and recognize that this is not a real safety issue for visitors," the statement says. "Florida is a very safe and secure destination that excels in caring for its visitors. On any given day, the state hosts 1 million of them."