Gun permits rise as some fight back against crime
Sentinel Staff Writer
9:14 AM EDT, June 21, 2007
Marc Thom drew his 9 mm pistol on two shotgun-wielding men who confronted him and a woman outside his MetroWest apartment early Sunday.
One of the robbers ducked when Thom pointed his weapon, which allowed him and his friend to run to a business and call police.
Thom, who has a concealed-weapons permit, is among a growing number of people in the Orlando area who are confronting rising violent crime by carrying guns.
Nearly 20,000 people in Orange County are legally carrying concealed guns, records show. The number of licenses for concealed weapons in the county has jumped 20 percent in the past year and has risen 57 percent in the past five years.
And more are on the way. The state Division of Licensing has sent out nearly a quarter-million applications for permits statewide this year, a 33 percent increase from five years ago.
"Having a concealed-weapon permit for most people is peace of mind," said Larry Anderson, who manages the Shoot Straight gun shop and firing range in Apopka. "If someone is prepared for the worst-case scenario, they're better off.
"We all have insurance for our cars for that same reason," he added.
No permit is required to carry a weapon openly in the Sunshine State, though to carry a gun on your person requires a concealed-weapon license.
As violent crime spiked across the nation, Florida in 1987 joined 34 other states in allowing residents who take a safety class and pass a background check to carry a hidden gun.
Research shows that some form of resistance, including use of a weapon, does help thwart criminal attacks, said Lonn Lanza-Kaduce, who heads the criminology department at the University of Florida.
But it also increases the risk of injury or death to the victim.
"That's the wicked conundrum," Lanza-Kaduce said. "You can't have too many of these incidents before someone gets hurt."
Cops agree. When victims resist, that's often when something happens, Orlando police Sgt. Barbara Jones said.
At the same time, though, police understand that people want to defend themselves, Jones said.
"Obviously, the public is concerned about crime and they have to do what they need to," Jones said. "It's just a reaction when this happens."
Two days after Thom chased away the two armed men at MetroWest, Eaion Connor fought back another way.
Connor didn't have a weapon when a gunman tried to carjack him as he left a 7-Eleven early Tuesday on the city's south side.
So he reached for his assailant's .40-caliber handgun, which went off as he wrested it away. No one was hit, but the shot startled the gunman so much that he lost his slippers and hat as he ran off.
"That's good news," said John Harvey, owner of the Oak Ridge Gun Range in Orlando. "If you're attacked and you don't fight back, you're going to be attacked more."
Harvey said he sees 20 people in every permit class his range offers, double from a year ago.
Anderson, manager of Shoot Straight, said his two weekly classes also have about 20 people in them, a definite and steady increase since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
He was more guarded in lauding the men who fought back but also said he couldn't second-guess them.
"I don't recommend just anybody doing that, but until you're in that situation, you never know what you'll do," Anderson said.
Every attack is different.
Dick Giles, taking target practice with his grandson Wednesday morning at the Shoot Straight range, can't afford the $118 for the concealed-weapon license he wants.
A lifelong shooter, the Pine Hills man said he wants it to fight back if attacked when he is alone. He would give in only if his wife or 7-year-old grandson, Max Ortiz, were with him.
"Most of the stuff going on out there are young kids who don't want to work for a buck," Giles said. "When someone actually fights back, they run off."
Len Morris, shooting two lanes away in the range, took the opposite tack. He would defend his family but, alone, would give in.
"Just because you have a weapon doesn't mean you're guaranteed of the outcome," the Orlando man said. "It's a last resort."
Before firing into a tight black bull's-eye on his target 15 yards out, Morris explained his logic.
"You have to avoid the confrontation, if possible," he said. "But with what appears to be an increase of crime in this area, it just seems prudent to be able to defend yourself."