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.
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.” (Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre spoke of similar concerns about open-carry, which he opposes, but spoke in more general terms.)
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.”
The sheriff points to hair-trigger situations where guns are openly displayed.
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.
–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri issued the following statement and email to Lee Williams:
Sadly, things have reached an all time low. I NEVER made the statement Mr. Williams claims I made. He never contacted me before writing his blog so sadly he “reported” very bad information. The following is the email sent to Mr. Williams this morning:
Based on our previous conversation I am not surprised you wrote this completely inaccurate blog piece. This is irresponsible “reporting” at its finest. You did not hesitate to call me previously so why did you not call me to get the facts before spewing this nonsense this time? Sadly, it absolutely mischaracterizes my statement and does a great disservice to all when junk like this is written. The Sarasota Hearld Tribune has stooped to a new low. This is not “reporting.”
Be absolutely clear, I have and always will FULLY SUPPORT every citizen’s right to carry concealed with a permit and to use whatever means within the law to protect themselves and their families. Nobody can point to any “fact” that contradicts my position on that because none exists. You can spin and misstate all you want but the facts remain the facts. Nonsense spewed by you is not fact.
What I don’t want to ever see is what you don’t want to ever see and that is any citizen hurt because they are exercising their right to carry a gun. We need to ensure that whatever is done protects all citizens the best we can. I want to protect concealed carry permit holders and that was the discussion I was having with Margie Menzel.
If I said what you say I said then people should be concerned but it is completely false! Seriously, I want to shoot concealed carry permit holders? Why have we stooped to this all time low? Honest dialogue and debate are healthy and a foundation upon which this country is built and I welcome that….including any factual disagreement with my position. But this nonsense is plain wrong! Let’s raise the bar to civility in this process and to that end I hope you will correct the record with fact.
– Sheriff Bob Gualtieri