Florida lawmakers OK carrying guns without a permit

Tribune Content Agency

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill Thursday allowing Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training, disappointing gun violence prevention activists while falling short of what some Second Amendment advocates wanted.

The measure now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has said he would sign it.

The 27-13 vote, which fell mostly along party lines, came days after a mass school shooting in Nashville sent a painful reminder about the children killed by gun violence in Florida, including the Parkland attack that took the lives of 17 students and school employees.

“We started yesterday with a moment of silence for the six victims of the Nashville shooting, yet we went on and rejected amendments for ideas that would make this legislation safer, our world safer,” said Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton. “Why we are going in the opposite direction of what we did after the tragedy of Parkland is truly beyond me. We finally do something good and it is working.”

The Parkland shooting in 2018 led to major gun reforms enacted by the Legislature and the creation of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. Several bills this session would undo some of the recommendations lawmakers have put into law.

Senate bill sponsor Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, said his bill makes it easier for law-abiding citizens to access their Second Amendment right to own and carry a gun by removing the “permission slip” required by the state.

“I refuse to deny law-abiding citizens of this great state the right to defend those they do hold dear,” Collins said before the Senate voted.

Collins said the bill doesn’t stop businesses or other property owners from banning guns on their premises. It also doesn’t lift the ban on having guns on school or government property.

He also said the bill was packed by 60 of 67 Florida sheriffs and the Police Benevolent Association.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, supported the bill, saying, “This may save a child’s life, (which is) important protection for all of us. I wish we didn’t need that protection. But we live in a time where owning a gun is almost a necessity.”

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, filed an amendment Wednesday that would allow people to carry weapons into legislative hearings.

“When this bill passes, and it will, there will be additional guns in Publix where my wife and kids are. And yet there won’t be one here, and that’s hypocrisy. Or irony. Or both,” Pizzo said. “If we’re really sitting here, and talking about protecting yourself and law-abiding citizens, it’s incredibly hypocritical not to vote for this amendment.”

The amendment failed along party lines, with Republicans voting no.

Part of the bill provides $60 million for school safety measures, creating a threat management portal, allowing private schools to join the guardian program, and establishing a safe schools canine program.

The bill has been criticized by both gun violence prevention advocates and Second Amendment supporters but for entirely different reasons.

It isn’t truly “constitutional carry,” gun-rights activists said, because it doesn’t allow Floridians to carry their weapons in the open instead of concealed.

“This bill is weak and failed leadership on part of Governor DeSantis and the Republican legislative leadership. Gun owners deserve better,” said Matt Collins, a former firearms lobbyist and longtime Second Amendment advocate.

DeSantis had said he supports open carry but he would sign into law whatever the Legislature sends to his desk.

Democrats and gun control advocates said the proposal will only increase the number of guns in Florida, a state with two of the worst mass shootings in history — the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando and Parkland.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, also said the bill would create a back door for thousands of people whose applications were rejected each year.

Other states that have open carry or permitless carry have seen gun crimes increase, Sen. Linda Stewart said previously. Florida can’t afford to risk that since it is so tourist-dependent, and Orange County is the center of the tourism industry, she said.

Florida would become the 25th state to have permitless carry if it becomes law. About 42 states have some form of open carry, including a handful that require open carry permits.