Florida lawmaker introduces, then quickly withdraws, measure allowing people to openly carry weapons

Tribune Content Agency

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Legislation allowing Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit is set for consideration Thursday in the Florida House of Representatives — minus an attempt to allow open carrying of firearms.

House Bill 543, known as permitless carry, would eliminate the requirement that someone obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm. Although that’s a major loosening of restrictions, it’s not enough for the most enthusiastic gun advocates, who also want to be allowed to openly carry weapons.

March For Our Lives, the organization founded in the aftermath of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, is holding what it describes as a major rally at the state Capitol on Thursday to oppose the permitless carry legislation.

On Tuesday, state Rep. Mike Beltran, a Hillsborough County Republican, introduced an amendment to add open carry to the permitless carry legislation. He withdrew it on Wednesday.

Beltran didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment on his proposal or a voicemail left with a person at his Tallahassee office.

Democrats had condemned the proposal.

“Permitless carry will not make our communities safer and neither will open carry,” state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, a northwest Broward Democrat who was mayor of Parkland when her city was rocked by the Stoneman Douglas massacre, in which 17 people were killed and 17 injured.

State Rep. Dan Daley, also a northwest Broward Democrat, called it “a dangerous political stunt to appease the NRA far right.”

Daley, a graduate of Stoneman Douglas, was a city commissioner in Coral Springs at the time of the massacre. Students from Coral Springs attend the Parkland high school.

Daley, Hunschofsky and other Democrats have been outspoken in their opposition to permitless carry. But Republicans control so many seats in the state Legislature that Democrats are powerless to influence the outcome.

Permitless carry appears virtually certain to pass the House and Senate and get signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Some gun advocates have been critical of DeSantis and Republicans for not advancing their agenda as far as they want by going for open carry. DeSantis has said he’d support it if the Legislature sent it to him, but it’s unclear if that’s a way to avoid antagonizing the most passionate gun advocates while knowing Republican leaders in the Legislature won’t let the measure get to his desk.

The Republican Senate president, Kathleen Passidomo, has said Florida sheriffs don’t support open carry, so she doesn’t either.

The Florida Democratic Party, in a news release, played up DeSantis’ professed support in a news release.

“Ron DeSantis is encouraging lawmakers to introduce more and more extreme legislation as he works to boost his national profile and win over the MAGA base,” spokesperson Devon Cruz said.

Cruz said the open carry amendment “could make it easier for criminals to openly carry guns in Florida. Law enforcement and citizens alike oppose this bill, which would make our state more dangerous. This extreme amendment is just another example of DeSantis putting his own political ambitions ahead of Floridians.”

DeSantis is running an all-but-officially declared campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Permitless carry — which would end the requirement for someone who wants to carry a concealed weapon to get a permit, take a firearms safety and training course and get fingerprinted — is set for consideration in the Florida House on Thursday.

A University of North Florida poll released March 9 found a majority of Florida voters don’t support permitless carry.

All voters: 77% oppose, 21% support.

Democrats, 93% oppose, 5% support.

Republicans, 62% oppose, 36% support.

Independents, 78% oppose, 24% support.

“Not only is there bipartisan opposition to this ‘constitutional carry’ bill, but folks seem to feel passionately about it with the majority (67%) saying they strongly oppose the bill,” Michael Binder, a UNF political scientist and faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab, said in a written statement about the poll results.

Still, it’s a potentially important motivating factor for some voters.

Political scientists have said some supporters of supporters of gun rights feel so passionately about the issue that it can influence their votes, but it hasn’t proven as powerful a single issue for people who want restrictions imposed on guns.