Bill allowing open carry of guns in Florida gets first hearing Tuesday
As the national debate over gun laws has resurfaced in the wake of last week's deadly community college shooting in Oregon, Florida continues to debate its own proposals here in Tallahassee.
Next up is a bill that would relax existing state law by allowing anyone who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon to also openly carry that firearm in public. The proposal gets its first hearing before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday morning, and it's sure to draw input from both gun-rights advocates and gun-control supporters.
HB 163 is sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. (Download HB163_AsIntroduced) It's co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Neil Combee of Polk County, Brad Drake of Eucheeanna, Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, Jay Fant of Jacksonville and Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights. Van Zant and Fant both sit on the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
Gaetz's father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, introduced the Senate companion (SB 300), which has yet to be referred to a committee in that chamber.
Matt and Don Gaetz are holding a press conference at 8 a.m. Tuesday to discuss their legislation at the Capitol.
Florida is currently one of only five states and the District of Columbia that prohibit the open carrying of handguns altogether, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The Gaetzes' legislation would have the Sunshine State join 15 others where open-carry is allowed with some form of license or permit. Thirty-one states allow open-carry without any license or permit, but some require guns to be unloaded.
In addition to allowing open-carry, the legislation also directs judges to exercise "strict scrutiny" to any law that "implicates the right to bear arms or defend one's self" and changes the standard for which officers can make an arrest if they suspect someone is unlicensed while carrying a concealed weapon. The officer would need to have probable cause, no longer "reasonable grounds or probable cause."
"The right to bear arms is a fundamental and individual right that exists in any place that a person has the right to be, subject only to exceptionally and narrowly tailored restrictions that employ the least possible restriction on the right in order to achieve a compelling government interest," the bill reads.
In the section declaring the policy, the bill also adds language asserting as fact "that the possession and carrying of weapons and firearms by law-abiding individuals for lawful purpose, including self-defense, enhances public safety."
This legislation is among several gun-related bills introduced for the 2016 session. Another controversial measure would allow people on college campuses to carry concealed weapons. It passed the House and Senate criminal justice subcommittees last month.