Thursday, June 21, 2018
Politics

Florida businesses that ban guns could be held liable in mass shootings

TALLAHASSEE — Say a movie theater in Florida banned its patrons from carrying concealed handguns, but a mass shooter came in anyway and attacked — not unlike what happened in Aurora, Colo., almost five years ago.

Under an NRA-backed measure proposed this week in the Florida Legislature, victims who had permits to carry concealed weapons could sue the theater for damages if they could show the weapons ban left them disarmed when they might have been able to use their gun to thwart or stop the attack.

The new proposal (SB 610) from Senate Judiciary Chairman Greg Steube — a conservative Sarasota Republican who has proposed a slew of controversial gun-rights measures this year — says the "Legislature intends to find a balance" between gun-owners' rights and private property rights.

And Steube's plan to do that means businesses would be held responsible — and put at risk of being sued — for decisions to ban guns.

"It's the premise in Florida that if a private business wants to prohibit guns in their location that's open to public, that's fine they can do that," Steube said. "But if you're going to do that, in my opinion, I should have some assumption that I'm going to be protected as a conceal-carry permit-holder because you're taking away my ability to defend myself."

The proposed law change would subject private businesses to potential civil penalties if an incident happens that "could reasonably have been prevented" had guns and other weapons not been banned.

About 1.7 million people have concealed weapons permits in Florida, the most of any state in the country.

Steube's bill would force a business that bans guns to legally "assume absolute custodial responsibility" for their patrons' "safety and defense" should someone commit "any unlawful or reckless act" or should "a vicious or wild animal" attack.

"If you're prohibiting my ability to carry and I'm licensed to carry … you're going to need to make sure that there's adequate security in place to protect me in case of an emergency or some type of shooting incident," Steube said. "And if you don't take those adequate measures and something happens, then you're going to be liable."

The measure would allow lawsuits — seeking damages, attorneys fees and court costs — against the business for up to two years after the incident occurred.

The legislation does not affect homeowners or their rights, Steube said.

Marion Hammer, the NRA's influential Tallahassee lobbyist, said Steube's measure "merely codifies" an obligation private businesses already have.

"When (businesses) deny customers and clients the ability to exercise the constitutional right to bear arms for lawful self-defense, they incur an extraordinary duty of care to protect those people and an extraordinary liability if they fail to do so," Hammer said in an email.

Steube said he hasn't talked to the business community about his plan. Major business groups, including the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida, are so far silent on the proposal, which was filed Tuesday afternoon.

The bill has not yet been assigned to legislative committees for review, and there is no House companion at this time, which is typically necessary for a measure to have a chance at becoming law.

Meanwhile, Steube also is following through on plans he announced last week to break up a controversial and sweeping gun measure he had initially proposed (SB 140) into as many as 10 individual bills.

Six such bills surfaced Wednesday morning. For instance, SB 618 lifts the ban on concealed weapons in airport passenger terminals, mirroring a measure already filed in the Florida House. Other individual measures from Steube would allow concealed weapons also at legislative meetings (SB 620) and other government meetings (SB 626), in career centers (SB 640), on public college and university campuses (SB 622) and in courthouses, so they can be temporarily surrendered at security (SB 616).

Contact Kristen M. Clark at [email protected] Follow @ByKristenMClark

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