Tourists to Florida Get Warning as Greeting
By Abby Goodnough
A national gun-control group is riling Gov. Jed Bush and Florida’s mighty tourism industry by warning visitors that arguing with locals here could get them shot.
The group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, based in Washington, began handing out fliers at Miami International Airport on Monday, cautioning visitors to take “sensible precautions” and to be aware that altercations on highways, in nightclubs, or on the beach could provoke a shooting.
The fliers offer tips like “Do not argue unnecessarily with local people,” and “If someone appears to be angry with you, maintain to the best of your ability a positive attitude and do not shout or make threatening gestures.”
The group said it was passing out the fliers to protest Florida’s new “stand your ground” law, which lets people use guns or other deadly force to defend themselves in public places without first trying to escape.
The law took effect Saturday, six months after the Legislature passed it. The National Rifle Association had lobbied hard for its passage.
On Sunday, the Brady Campaign ran advertisements in The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, and The Detroit Free Press, featuring a hand-gun-shaped map of Florida next to the words, “Thinking about a Florida vacation? Please ensure your family is safe.” The ad is to run in The Guardian of London this weekend.
Governor Bush and the state’s tourism agency, Visit Florida, have derided the effort as a scare tactic. Both said that the crime rate in Florida was at its lowest in 34 years. About 80 million people, including repeat visitors, come to the state each year, fueling a $57 billion tourism industry, according to Visit Florida.
“I think it’s pathetic, to be honest with you,” Mr. Bush said when asked last week about the Brady Campaign’s effort. “It won’t have an impact on changing visitor patterns. But, you know, it’s shameful that people would try to scare visitors when they show up, traveling hours to get to what we call paradise.”
In Britain, where Florida is considered a popular vacation destination, a spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents said members had begun telling customers abut the law. But the spokesman, Sean Tipton, said the law would not stop tourists from traveling here.
The Brady Campaign effort stirs memories of the early 1990’s when, after a rash of attacks by local residents on foreign visitors to Miami and other Florida cities, rental car companies distributed brochures warning tourists to keep their doors locked and not to stop if their car was bumped.
Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign, said the group did not want to be accused of dredging up old fears about Florida, but it decided it was a risk worth taking.
“We very much want people to think we are behaving responsibly and using the right tone about this,” Mr. Hamm said. “But our side is struggling to hold off the N.R.A. as they march forth with this agenda of theirs. Sometimes when you are in the minority you have to take a risk.”
He said the group was spending about $100,000 on the effort and would pay four workers from a temporary agency to distribute fliers at the Miami airport from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week, for at least a month. Starting next week, he said, the group will also pass out fliers at Orlando International Airport.
Mr. Hamm said the Brady Campaign was fighting a similar proposal in Michigan and preparing for a battle over a new gun bill in Florida.
Introduced last month by State Representative Dennis K. Baxley, a Republican who also sponsored “stand your ground,” the new proposal would impose criminal penalties on businesses that try to stop employees from keeping guns in their cars while parked at work. It is modeled on an Oklahoma law that drew attention recently after several large companies joined a federal lawsuit to block it.
Marion Hammer, a former president of the National Rifle Association and its lobbyist in Tallahassee, Fla., said the proposal would also ensure that businesses were not liable when guns locked in cars in their parking lots ended up “misused.”
“They can’t any more tell you that you can’t have a firearm in your vehicle,” Ms. Hammer said of private businesses, “than they can tell you that you can’t have an umbrella or a pair of sunglasses.”
As for the Brady Campaign’s fliers, Ms. Hammer called them “silly” and misleading. Only people with permits to carry concealed weapons, about 350,000 in Florida, can invoke the law in public places, she said.
“Nothing in this law allows people to use force against people they are arguing with,” she said. “Tourists have nothing to fear in Florida unless they are coming here to break into our homes, to carjack our vehicles, or attack us on the streets.”
The Miami airport is allowing the Brady Campaign to approach passengers in several “First Amendment zones” near arrival points. When the first fliers were distributed on Monday, most recipients kept walking, but some stopped, foreheads crinkling as they read the boldface warning.
“I’m just kind of shocked,” said Susie Glasgow of Peoria, Ill., who was on her way home after a cruise to the Bahamas. “I’m sure we’ll be back, and this is a little bit scary.”
Steven Stoller, who was arriving from New Jersey, said he was happy to be made aware of the law but also happy it existed.
“I don’t want it to be like the Wild West,” Mr. Stoller said, “But if people are threatened with their life, they should be able to shoot first.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times on October 4, 2005.
Appeared in The New York Times
October 04, 2005