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World In wake of high school shooting, Florida's embrace of gun culture will come under scrutiny

People attend a candlelight vigil for victims of Wednesday's shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 15, 2018.

CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

In late 2012, a Florida official issued a press release hailing a milestone he wanted to celebrate: The number of concealed-weapon permits in the state was about to cross one million.

Six years later, that figure has nearly doubled. And Florida continues to lead the country in the number of concealed-weapons permits, part of the state's embrace of gun culture.

That culture will come under scrutiny in the wake of Wednesday's shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 people dead. The state now holds the grim distinction of being the site of two of the ten worst shootings in modern American history (the other took place at a nightclub in Orlando in 2016). Last year, another mass shooting took place in the same county as Wednesday's attack when a gunman killed five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

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Read more: After Florida shooting, politicians waste no time speaking up on gun control

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday called for healing and peace one day after a 19-year-old man was accused of killed at least 17 people at a Florida high school. Reuters

Read more: Suspect confessed to carrying out Florida high school shooting: sheriff's report

Explainer: What we know so far about the Florida school shooting

While the debate over gun restrictions often focuses on what happens – or does not happen – in Washington, there are also pitched battles taking place at the state level. And Florida is known for several efforts to limit the way guns are regulated and even discussed.

In 2011, for instance, Florida enacted a rule barring doctors from asking their patients if they had a gun in their home. The so-called "gag rule" was framed by gun-rights advocates as a way to protect the constitutional rights of firearm owners. Medical organizations have long counselled doctors to talk with their patients about the dangers of unsecured weapons for children or people with severe depression. A federal appeals court fully overturned the law last year, saying it infringed on the free speech of doctors.

Florida is also known for its "pre-emption" statute. In 2011, lawmakers in Tallahassee strengthened a law that declared that the state alone had the ability to regulate firearms and ammunition, a warning to cities and towns, which in some cases, had adopted their own ordinances on guns. Any local official who disregards the rule can be fined or removed from office. In the wake of the change, localities scrapped ordinances that had restricted people from, among other things, carrying guns into parks or firing them into the air.

Another piece of legislation that makes Florida notable is the state's "stand-your-ground" law, a measure pushed by the National Rifle Association that was enacted in 2005 and strengthened last year. The law removed a duty to retreat before resorting to the use of deadly force in self-defence. Critics have said it encourages a "shoot-first" mentality.

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The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization that advocates for stricter control of firearms, gives each state an annual grade for its gun regulations. Florida receives an "F," together with 25 other states.

But it is not considered the most lax when it comes to guns. That distinction goes to states like Mississippi, Missouri and Kansas, said Laura Cutilletta, a staff attorney at the Giffords Center. Those states allow people to carry concealed weapons with no permit whatsoever.

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