Fred Grimm: Zombie Apocalypse bill comes to life

04/12/2014 6:14 PM

09/12/2014 7:35 PM

It’s the only plausible explanation for what happened last week in Tallahassee. Florida lawmakers are getting us ready for the zombie apocalypse.

At first glance, Senate Bill 296, which allows gun owners to pack heat during civil emergencies, whether or not they happened to have a concealed weapon permit, would seem just another mindless pander to the National Rifle Association.

Sponsors told fellow legislators that a new law was necessary to prevent police from seizing firearms from Floridians fleeing declared civil emergencies. Like a hurricane. Perhaps even a riot.

At first glance, none of that stuff made sense, adding unlicensed gunslingers to civil chaos. One can only suppose that our legislators, as they voted “yea,” were advancing a secret save-our-civilization-from- Zombie Bloodbath-agenda as the measure zipped through Senate committee stops last week and a House companion bill was approved 80-to-36 Friday afternoon. Our leaders are intent on getting us armed and ready to battle The Army of Darkness (or worse, the feminist version, Zombie Women of Satan). Because any other explanation for SB 296 is just plain crazy.

So it’s obvious. Legislators, anxious to avoid setting off mass panic, played it coy. They talked hurricanes. They talked riots. They didn’t broach the fear gnawing at slimy, rotten innards of American culture. They didn’t talk about World War Z. No one mentioned Dawn of the Dead. They said one thing. They were thinking Die You Zombie Bastards!

Their lack of candor did cause a few awkward moments. When one of the bill’s champions, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, was pressed to name an actual instance when someone in Florida was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon or had his firearm confiscated during a declared emergency, he couldn’t think of one. Not even during that spate of hurricanes last decade that sent Floridians scurrying from the paths of Katrina, Wilma, Charlie, Jeanne, Dennis and Ivan.

That led Sen. Jack Latvala R-Clearwater, to ask Brandes why, then, our already lenient state gun laws were in such urgent need of fixing, Brandes recalled that firearms had been confiscated in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “Often we see situations around the country that we don’t want repeated here in the great state of Florida.” The word “situation” was code for Night of the Living Dead. Or maybe Night of the Living Dead 3-D.

Of course, most of the guns seized in New Orleans were confiscated at the entrance to the Superdome. Authorities apparently thought gunplay would not improve the mix of the hunger, thirst, stench, despair, anger suffered by 20,000 desperate refugees camped inside the big, dark, domed stadium. That incident so provoked the gun lobby in 2006, that Congress passed a federal law prohibiting “the confiscation of a firearm during an emergency or major disaster if the possession of such firearm is not prohibited under federal or state law.”

Florida’s about to take this even further. At times when fear and desperation and panic grips the population, SB 296 would extend that immunity to folks too lazy or too hinky to qualify for a concealed weapon permit.

Of course, such a premise is way too absurd for anyone to pretend it’s anything other than a diversion from the scary truth. Everyone in Tallahassee surely knows that Brandes‘ real intent is to save Florida from the ultimate civil emergency. What occurred in the capitol (a.k.a. House of the Dead) last week, thanks to this brave senator from St. Petersburg (long known as The City of the Living Dead) was exactly the intersection between heroic politician and the funereal horrors revealed in the 2012 historical classic Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies.

But until the dead actually start walking, the proposed bill might present a few problems for law enforcement. Which is why the Florida Sheriffs Association opposes the laws. Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford showed up at a committee meeting to express the association’s reservations. And to wonder about the need to mess with current law.

Rutherford noted that the law now allows gun owners without a concealed weapon permit to take their firearms with them when they evacuate, keeping their weapons in their car trunks or locked glove compartments. SB 296 would allow gun slingers without concealed carry permits to head into chaos with a pistol in their belt. That makes police officers nervous.

The sheriff was also bothered by ambiguous language in the bill, which didn’t quite define the term “evacuation.” Or how long, or how far away from an emergency situation an unlicensed evacuee can continue packing a concealed weapon. The NRA’s feared lobbyist Marion Hammer, as frightening a sight in the capitol hallways as anything conjured by George Romero, walked to the microphone and delivered a curt answer, “You leave, you get there. That’s the time frame we’re talking about.”

Brandes insisted that it was good thing that nobody knew what the hell the bill, or Marion, was talking about. “We need to offer broad flexibility when it comes to your right to defend yourself,” he said.

A few senators were concerned about how such a statute might effect another kind of civil emergency that occasionally prompts people without permits to leave home with a 9 mm pocket warmer. Police worry that during an urban riot, with its uncertain boundaries, they’ll have difficulty discerning whether a gunman is fleeing a civil disturbance or is on his way to join in the fun.

The unspoken answer, of course, is that if the person with an unlicensed concealed weapon is an ethnic minority or among the walking deceased, the gun lobby expects law enforcement to come out blazing. Besides, legislators could hardly be sure that the sheriffs and police chiefs opposed to SB 296 weren’t zombie infiltrators. They’ve all seen I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I.

I ran a quick check in the Herald archives, searching out instances of gun confiscation. In Miami, most firearm seizures occurred in tandem with the confiscation of large quantities of illegal drugs. The NRA has not championed gun rights for narcotic smuggers. Not yet anyway. But last fall, my colleague David Smiley reported that a school teacher in a Doral elementary school had confiscated a semi-automatic handgun from a fifth-grader.

Who knows? Maybe the kid was worried about a hurricane or another civil disturbance. More likely, he had seen an episode of the Walking Dead the night before and, mindful of his Second Amendment rights, was following the advice of his elected representatives in Tallahassee, getting himself armed and ready for the zombie apocalypse.

My advice, meanwhile, would be to avoid North Florida backwaters until this crisis passes, mindful of the prophetic Trailer Park of Terror. Avoid even innocuous seeming venues depicted in Zombie Strippers and Zombies on Broadway (filmed in 1945, just to let you know that Zombie Wars have been a long time coming.)

Stay calm people, load your Glocks with silver bullets, don’t worry about getting a concealed weapon permit, and listen to advice from that voice of sanity, the NRA (a.k.a. Redneck Zombies).

About Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm

@grimm_fred

Fred Grimm joined the Herald in 1976. Since 1991 he has written a column about crime, politics and life in Broward.

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