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Unanimous Pinellas Commission to Legislature: Shoot down open carry bill



Add Pinellas County's seven county commissioners to the list of opponents of a bill that would allow Florida's concealed weapons permit holders to openly carry their handguns. 

A unanimous commission -- four Democrats and three Republicans -- voted this week to draft a resolution noting their opposition to send to the state Legislature.  

Ken Welch, a St. Petersburg Democrat, proposed the resolution against the "dangerous" bill, HB 163. He noted that there about 50,000 carry concealed carry permit holders in Pinellas. (The actual number as of Oct. 31 was 56,281, according to the Florida Department of Revenue). If even a fraction of those opt to openly carry, that's still lot of guns in the open, Welch said.

"I think it makes law enforcement's job incredibly more difficult when they're arriving on a scene," Welch said. He also worried about the impact on tourism. To allow openly carried weapons at places like Pier 60 in Clearwater, he said, "just doesn't make sense."

Chairman John Morroni said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told him a resolution opposing the bill would be a "fanastic idea."

"What's the rationale behind (the bill)?" Morroni wondered.

"Marion Hammer," Commissioner Janet Long retorted, referring to the former president of the National Rifle Association and the current executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida. Hammer has been an outspoken proponent of the measure.

The bill is sponsored by the Republican father-son duo of Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Matt Gaetz has said the bill "restores and vindicates" Second Amendment rights and promotes public safety in a state with 1.5 million permit holders. The NRA and other supporters argue the measure would ensure permit holders are not prosecuted if they inadvertently show their weapon. Forty-five other states have some sort of open carry law. (Read more on that from our friends at PolitFact here.)

But many in law enforcement, including many in the Tampa Bay area, oppose the bill for a variety of reasons.

Front line officers already have a difficult enough job," Commissioner Dave Eggers said. "I don't understand any positive benefit behind it. I just think it's the wrong move."

The measure narrowly passed the House's Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Pinellas Republicans Chris Latvala and Kathleen Peters and Democrat Darryl Rouson voted no. Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg, voted yes.

The next stop is the House Judiciary Committee. The only Tampa Bay lawmaker on that committee is Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg.

[Last modified: Friday, November 27, 2015 5:49pm]


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