About Us| Issues & Campaigns| Media| Get Involved| New to the Issue?| Donate

May 9, 2011

Portrait of a "Responsible Citizen"

By now, most Americans are familiar with the extreme controversy that surrounds fundamentalist Christian pastor Terry Jones. What few realized until very recently is that Jones has been authorized to carry a loaded gun in 35 states across the country.

Rev. Jones runs the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. He first made national headlines in July 2010 when he announced plans to burn 200 copies of the Quran—the Muslim holy book—on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “We must send a send a clear message to radical Islam,” Jones explained. “We will not be controlled by their fear, we will not be dominated. We feel it is time for America to be America.” He punctuated this message by posting signs along the church’s property that shouted, “ISLAM IS OF THE DEVIL.”

Jones was aware of how offensive the book burning would be. "We are definitely probably insulting all Muslims," he stated. "The fact that we offend them is the lesser of two evils."

It wasn’t long before a massive public outcry erupted that cut across party and ideological lines. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin called Jones’ plans “mean-spirited religious intolerance” and an “unnecessary provocation.” More alarmingly, General David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan, warned that “images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan—and around the world—to inflame public opinion and incite violence.”

Jones, under intense pressure, cancelled his event, but only temporarily. On March 20, 2011, he supervised the burning of a single Quran at his Dove World Outreach Center following an “Islam trial.” In a video, Jones can be heard commenting, “It actually burns very good."

The burning did not go unnoticed in the Middle East. On April 1, approximately 2,000 protesters gathered outside the United Nations office in the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Violence erupted when protesters grabbed guns from UN guards and opened fire on them. The compound was stormed and when the smoke cleared 12 people lay dead, including seven UN workers.

Jones was sanguine in response. “We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities,” he said. The Pentagon saw it differently, speaking of the “tragic, deadly consequences” of Jones’ actions.

Just three weeks later, on April 21, Jones was endangering lives again, this time in Southfield, Michigan. The fundamentalist pastor was in town to appear on the Detroit FOX channel’s "Let it Rip” show. After his interview, Jones was escorted by police to his vehicle with his assistant pastor, Wayne Sapp (it was Sapp who physically burned the Quran on March 20).

When Jones got in the passenger seat of the car he accidentally fired a .40-caliber handgun into the floor of the vehicle. Officers who examined the car found another handgun belonging to Sapp under the driver’s seat. The two men were detained for a short period of time, during which the Southfield Police learned that both Jones and Sapp hold concealed handgun permits in Florida (because of a reciprocity agreement, Florida permit holders can carry their weapons in Michigan). But then, with little explanation, police returned both handguns to the men and allowed them to go on their way without filing any charges. This was despite the fact that, when asked about the discharge of the gun, Jones replied, “I have actually no explanation, no excuse.”

Jones was then free to proceed with a publicly-announced plan to arm himself and his followers during an upcoming Good Friday demonstration in the heavily Muslim Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan—an event which necessitated the involvement of riot police.

Florida is a “shall-issue” state, meaning the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services must issue a concealed handgun permit to any applicant who passes an instant computerized background check and takes a single, 3-hour training course. The permit is accepted in 34 other states and applicants are not required to be Florida residents in order to apply for one. The Florida permit has become popular with individuals of questionable character who cannot obtain permits in their own homes states. Plenty of unsavory characters in Florida are acquiring permits as well, whether it’s Rev. Jones, outlaw motorcycle gang members or individuals with extensive criminal backgrounds.

In commenting about Florida’s concealed handgun permit holders, longtime National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer remarked, “What other group has a better record of responsible citizenship?”

We can think of a few...