TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – The Florida Sheriffs Association is pushing back against criticism targeting Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri for remarks he made last week opposing controversial legislation that would allow people with concealed-weapon licenses to openly carry guns.READ MORE: Lauderhill PD Investigating Deadly Shooting
The association is expected to release a statement Monday saying Gualtieri was quoted out of context and did not issue threats that critics have associated with his remarks.
The move stems from a News Service of Florida report last week that the Florida Police Chiefs Association would support a proposal (SB 300/HB 163) that would allow open carrying of firearms — as long as amendments designed, in part, to protect law-enforcement officers are adopted first.
Gualtieri, who has spoken against the open-carry proposal in legislative committees, was quoted in the story explaining his concerns that openly carrying firearms could expose Floridians to greater risk than carrying concealed weapons.
That set off a firestorm, with supporters of the measure blasting Gualtieri for his remarks — which, the sheriff says, were taken out of context.
In the story, Gualtieri said the proposed amendments to the measure would not make the bill acceptable to him, and he raised concerns about the safety of people who openly display guns.
In doing so, he described a scenario in which an officer arrives at a crime scene and sees someone with a weapon. “At a minimum, they’re going to be thrown down on the ground with a gun pointed at them — or worse,” the story quoted him as saying.
Gualtieri also described a scenario in which a citizen carrying a gun walks into a bank during an armed robbery, with the story quoting the sheriff as saying, “he’s going to take one in the chest because he’s a threat.”
Following the publication of the story Thursday, Lee Williams, who blogs about guns for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, published an item Friday entitled “Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri threatens to shoot concealed carriers.”READ MORE: Citizens Insurance Nears 600,000 Policies
Also, the gun-rights group Florida Carry, which supports the legislation, sent an alert to members titled “Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri training deputies to kill law-abiding gun owners.”
“Gualtieri is not above fabricating his own version of the truth to get his way,” said the Florida Carry alert. “Even after the outright lies he was telling about the Open Carry bill were exposed in the press, the sheriff continues to act as a purveyor of falsehoods and irrational fear.”
The alert also suggested that Gualtieri resign “if he is unable to maintain a disciplined and professional law enforcement agency of public servers, if he is going to continue his attempts to cause a potentially deadly rift between the gun owning community and his department’s hard working deputies that could get a citizen or a law enforcement officer killed … then Sheriff Gualtieri is unfit to serve the people of Pinellas County and should resign or be removed.”
The open-carry bill is one of a series of high-profile gun issues facing lawmakers as the 2016 session readies to begin in January. The Legislature, for example, also will consider a proposal that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry firearms on college and university campuses.
The News Service story last week paraphrased much of Gualtieri’s remarks opposing the open-carry bill. As an example, here is the full quote about the scenario about the crime scene.
“It’s a question of whether, at 3 o’clock in the morning at the 7-11 store, when there’s a silent hold-up alarm and the deputy pulls into the parking lot, and the citizen is walking out of the store with a .45 stuck in their holster, let’s say, and a cup of coffee in their hand — it’s not going to be a good situation for that citizen,” Gualtieri said. “At a minimum, they’re going to be thrown down on the ground with a gun pointed at them — or worse.”
Similarly, here is the broader quote on the scenario about a bank robbery.
“Picture this. … You take as an example a 60-year-old man who is unassuming, not a threat to anybody, just your average citizen who has a concealed-carry permit and carries that gun absolutely everywhere he goes,” Gualtieri said. “And he walks into his local bank today to make a deposit, and he walks into the middle of an armed robbery. And when he walks in — unassuming, non-threatening — and he’s got his gun and it’s concealed, when he walks into that bank, there’s a good chance that that bank robber is not going to be threatened by him and is not going to shoot him because he happened to walk into the middle of a bank robbery. And you take that same 60-year-old guy, and he walks in there, and he’s got a big old .45 on his hip when he walks through that door, and that bank robber’s in the middle of robbing that bank and he sees that gun, he’s going to take one in the chest … because he’s a threat, he’s a visible threat.
The arguments of law-enforcement officials can play an important role in legislative debates on a variety of issues, including changes in the criminal-justice system and gun laws. At least some lawmakers could look to groups such as the sheriffs association and the police-chiefs association for advice on the open-carry proposal.MORE NEWS: Florida Lawmakers Won't 'Mess With Bingo'
The News Service of Florida’s Margie Menzel contributed to this report.