Gun-control group warns visitors to Fla.

Tourists cautioned about new arms law

October 04, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MIAMI -- A national gun-control group is riling Gov. Jeb 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 the Miami International Airport yesterday, 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 such as "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, Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press, featuring a handgun-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.

Bush and the state's tourism agency, Visit Florida, have derided the effort as a scare tactic. Both said the crime rate in Florida is 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," 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 about 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 1990s, 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," he said. "But our side is struggling to hold off the NRA 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 flyers 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 would also pass out flyers at Orlando International Airport.

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