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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Former law enforcement officers-turned-Democratic lawmakers unite against open carry, campus-carry gun bills

State Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, speaks at a press conference Tuesday with other Democratic lawmakers and representatives from groups that oppose bills in the Florida Legislature to allow openly carrying of guns and guns on college campuses.

Kristen M. Clark / Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

State Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, speaks at a press conference Tuesday with other Democratic lawmakers and representatives from groups that oppose bills in the Florida Legislature to allow openly carrying of guns and guns on college campuses.

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Four Democratic lawmakers -- all former law enforcement officials -- say they intend to fight bills moving through the Florida Legislature that would allow concealed-weapons permit-holders in Florida to carry guns on college campuses and openly in public.

State Reps. Dave Kerner of Lake Worth, Victor Torres of Orlando, John Cortes of Kissimmee and Clovis Watson of Alachua said the "dangerous" legislation won't make Floridians safer and their opposition to the bills doesn't equate to an attack on the Second Amendment, as the bills' proponents have claimed.

"This is bad public policy and the fact that the state of Florida is legitimately considering these concepts is frightening to me," Kerner said. "What we are dealing with now are policies that go way beyond the simple bearing of arms."

Torres and Watson are retired police officers, Cortes is a former corrections officer, and Kerner is a former police officer and prosecutor. They were joined in a press conference Tuesday by other Democratic lawmakers, as well as representatives from Florida's college system, the state Fraternal Order of Police and the League of Women Voters.

Supporters of the open-carry legislation (HB 163/SB 300), as well as the campus-carry bills (HB 4001/SB 68), argue the proposals would improve public safety by allowing people to immediately defend themselves.

But none of the bills includes enhanced training, holstering or weapons-retention requirements, which the Democratic lawmakers said are crucial to ensuring gun-owners carry their firearms safely.

"You're going to have civilians with guns, and they're not going to be trained properly, and you're going to get into a lot of chaos," Cortes said. "There's a lot of possibilities that can happen."

The campus-carry bill gets its next hearing in the House early Wednesday before the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee.

The sponsors of the open-carry legislation -- father-son duo, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach -- have said passing an open-carry law would "restore and vindicate" Second Amendment rights in Florida and they reject that it could lead to a "wild, wild West" environment.

But Kerner, Torres, Cortes and Watson argue that allowing people to openly carry guns could make it more difficult for police officers to react in emergency situations. If both proposals were signed into law, concealed-weapons permit-holders could, by default, openly carry on college campuses, too.

"As a cop, would you want to go to a scene where you may have a suspect who had a gun, shooting, and you have 30 or 40 other people with a gun on their hip -- and you determine who the bad guy is?" Watson said. "That's quite frightening, and I think it'd put our officers in harm's way."

The Democrats also blasted the National Rifle Association for pushing the bills and not advocating, instead, for sensible alternatives to improve public safety, such as better background and mental-health screenings for gun owners.

"Why do we have to fight the bills that the NRA is proposing?" said state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. "It's time we stood up to the NRA and say, 'We have different solutions.' More guns are not the solution ... we have better solutions that require a little more thought."

Florida's colleges oppose the campus-carry legislation, saying it would result in $74 million in extra costs so that campuses could beef up their own security. Several law enforcement groups have come out against the open-carry bills.

[Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 3:04pm]

    

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