Last October 1, Florida’s new handgun law went into effect and the talking hairdos on the evening news had an arched-eyebrow contest. As you may have heard, law-abiding Floridians, tired of being an unarmed minority in the Sunshine State, rared back and passed a law that allows any Floridian with no police record, $145, and two hours to spare for token instruction to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Moreover, for a while at least, thanks to a loophole in the law that no one seemed to be rushing to repeal, it appeared that anyone would be allowed to pack a pistol in plain view.

Florida, of all places. Who’d have thought it? The least Southern of the Southern states. But I guess a full-page ad in Southern Living magazine a couple of years ago should have told us something like this was coming. It was for the National Rifle Association, and it showed a Cuban-American Florida state legislator fondling his pistol and saying he wouldn’t give it up without a fight because he knows what it’s like to live under Communist tyranny. This isn’t the image Southern Living usually tries to project, but it does look a lot like life, at least as far as Florida’s concerned. Those of us who still think of Miami as a retirement home for old Trotskyite garment-workers from the lower East Side are at least 20 years out of date. South Florida has more Cubans and Nicaraguans than retired New Yorkers these days, and some of those guys are real Americans.

Now, I should say that my Second Amendment fundamentalist friends find me squishy-soft on the subject of handguns. I tend to believe that we compromised the constitutional principle when we gave up the right to carry automatic weapons, bazookas, and flame-throwers, and I’ve always thought that anything legal you can do with a pistol, you can do as well or better with a long gun. You can shoot varmints with a .22, protect your home with a shotgun, resist tyranny with a deer rifle. About the only thing a .38 is better for is knocking over liquor stores, and it would be all right with me if we outlawed handguns altogether. (That is, if my state did—your state can do what it pleases. That’s what federalism is all about.)

But I must say the right people are upset by Florida’s new law. Maybe it’s worth a try. A friend of mine who drives a tow truck told me recently about going out at night to pull a car out of a ditch. “There was two of them there when I got there, but must have been 10 after I got it out. They said they wasn’t going to pay me—no way. So I reached back and got my shotgun and told them: ‘I’m taking this car in, and you all can get it back when you bring the money.'”

Did they pay up? “They come in the next day.”

Did he always take his gun along? “I don’t leave home without it. You know, people are so mean these days.”

Robert Heinlein has observed that an armed society is a polite society—and Lord knows Florida can use all the civility it can muster. But plainly the guardians of our civic morality are less scandalized by how mean people are these days than by what Floridians are doing about it. So keep your eye on how this experiment is evaluated by the media.

No fair saying next year that Miami has the highest murder rate in the U.S., if not the Western Hemisphere. It has that already.

No fair, either, saying that more murders next year are committed with handguns. That may happen, if only because people won’t have to use sloppy, slow, unreliable methods like knifing, strangling, or bludgeoning. The state-by-state statistics suggest that tough gun laws mean mostly that crimes of passion get committed with other weapons; where there’s a will, there’s a way.

No, the statistic to watch is total homicides, however committed, excluding those in self-defense. Why exclude those? Because that’s the point: Floridians apparently intend for some different folks to die now. Folks that deserve it. It remains to be seen whether it works that way or not, but would it be a bad thing if it did?

The fact of the matter is that Floridians don’t display much in the way of enlightened liberal concern for the lives of scum. It was in Florida, after all, that an oft-burglarized storekeeper was acquitted last year for rigging a booby trap that electrocuted a young share-the-wealth activist. Florida is right up there with Texas in legal executions, too; you might say that this new law just extends the “definition and, ah, privatizes the process.

Some other statistics we might want to check out in a year or so are those for robbery, burglary, and rape. When the law went into effect, the network news shows all carried interviews with young women on firing ranges saying things like “If somebody tries to rape me I’m going to blow him away.” I wouldn’t be surprised if some rapists move to New York. As drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs observes: “There’s something about a woman in a bikini with a machine gun strapped across her chest that says, ‘Hey, women are people, too.'” Maybe pocketbooks that might hold Smith and Wessons can get the same message across. The old Colt .45 wasn’t called “the Equalizer” for nothing.

A book you probably haven’t seen reviewed in the mainstream press presents some evidence to back me up. In Armed and Considered Dangerous, James Wright and Peter Rossi report the results of interviews with nearly two thousand felons, doing time in the prisons of 10 states. A majority of these experts agreed that criminals avoid potential victims they believe to be armed, and two out of five had themselves decided in the past not to commit a crime for that reason. Three-quarters agreed that burglars avoid occupied houses for fear of being shot, and over a third had actually been scared off, shot at, or captured by an armed victim. (These gentlemen, by the way, had had no difficulty obtaining weapons, even under restrictive laws, but over 80 percent of those who had used guns to commit crimes said that if they couldn’t get handguns they’d switch to more deadly sawed-off rifles or shotguns.)

So, as I said, Florida’s experiment is worth a try. I do have one suggestion, though. It’s a mushy, liberal. Great Society kind of proposal, probably just a reflex left over from the bad company I kept in the 60’s, but I can’t help it.

Look here: the price of a good pistol, plus $145 for a permit, plus two hours of lessons—that’s a lot to ask from poor folks. They’re probably the ones who need protection the most, too. They’ve got no perimeter alarms, no chain-link fences, no Dobermans between them and the predators. Do we want them driven to bootleg dealers, to back-alley armorers? To Saturday-night specials that blow up in your hand? Of course not. I say if we can put a man on the moon, we can put a decent weapon in every glove compartment. Come on, Florida—how about gun subsidies for the poor?