Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Public safety

Florida House bill would allow carrying guns without a permit during riots

TALLAHASSEE — Under a bill backed by the National Rifle Association and other gun groups, riots could be the newest safe haven for those carrying firearms without a permit.

HB 209, which is expected to be voted on Friday by the Florida House, would allow people with clean criminal backgrounds to conceal firearms without a permit during emergencies — including riots and civil unrest like the 1996 racial disturbances that rocked St. Petersburg — declared by the governor or local officials.

"To allow people to go into a riot while concealing a gun without a permit is the definition of insanity," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "The bill is crazy. It's absurd."

Supporters of the bill say it's intended to give gun owners the opportunity to protect their property while they are evacuating from a disaster or crisis, such as hurricanes, floods or worse.

"We tell people to be prepared during hurricane season to take care of yourself for three days," Florida Carry general counsel Eric Friday said earlier this month. "That means food, water, and also the ability to protect yourself because emergency services aren't available."

Those concealing a firearm without a permit can be punished with up to five years in prison for the third-degree felony. Under the proposed legislation, that penalty could be waived during emergencies.

Gualtieri and the Florida Sheriffs Association have been lobbying for weeks to make changes, pitting them against the sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. That's SB 296.

A key objection is that it's not clear in the legislation when it's okay not to have a permit for the concealed firearm. Both bills say no permit is needed for those "in the act of complying with a mandatory evacuation order during a declared state of emergency."

If someone flees a hurricane and travels several counties over, either to a hotel or relative's house, at what point are they still evacuating? For how long are they able to claim they are evacuating?

On Wednesday, the House sponsor, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, couldn't provide specifics to the doubters during House debate on the bill.

"I have (the gun) on my body because I'm allowed to do it under this new law, and I get to a (hurricane) shelter," Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, asked Fitzenhagen. "What happens to the firearm then?"

"The law does not allow you to bring that into a shelter," Fitzenhagen replied. "You would be able to put it somewhere else, in another person's car perhaps, or a container."

The Florida Sheriffs Association thinks the bill is too vague and would lead to false arrests and clashes with police. Brandes and Fitzenhagen say too much specificity would defeat the purpose of the bill.

"If you refine it too much, then you don't make it effective for giving people the opportunity to store their guns safely," she said.

For Gualtieri and the Florida Sheriffs Association, the bills were made considerably worse in late March and early April when they were amended so that local authorities, not just the governor, could declare an emergency.

Under that added provision, riots qualified as emergencies in which residents could conceal guns without permits.

"We were trying to work with them, but they changed the purpose of the bill," Gualtieri said. "Now you don't have to be leaving an area. You could be coming to it, you could be part of the problem, exacerbating it."

On Tuesday, the Senate's Community Affairs Committee agreed, stripping out the local emergency provision that included riots.

But it remains in the House bill, where it will stay, said Fitzenhagen.

"I believe there are scenarios in which local governments should have the authority to call a state of emergency," Fitzenhagen said Wednesday. "I'm not contemplating them calling a state of emergency for riots and then they grab their handguns and go out there into the riot."

But the way the bill is written, it's too confusing for law enforcement officers and gun owners alike, Gualtieri said.

"It would give me pause, as sheriff, in declaring a state of emergency," he said. "If I know cops would have to deal with God knows what, I now have to worry about making a situation worse."

Comments
Cops question viral video about human trafficking at Pinellas Publix

Cops question viral video about human trafficking at Pinellas Publix

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is setting the record straight about a viral Facebook video posted by a Dunedin woman who claimed she almost fell victim to human trafficking. Lynne Knowles took to Facebook to share what happened to her at the Pu...
Updated: 23 minutes ago
Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office launches Facebook, Twitter accounts in Spanish

Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office launches Facebook, Twitter accounts in Spanish

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office now has Facebook and Twitter accounts in Spanish.The agency celebrated the official launch of the accounts on Wednesday. Sheriff Chad Chronister said the goal is to connect with an increasing number of...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco man taken down by K9 after attempting to kidnap infant girl, putting schools on lockdown

Pasco man taken down by K9 after attempting to kidnap infant girl, putting schools on lockdown

NEW PORT RICHEY — A few hours before he was lying on his back in the woods, shirtless with a dog’s jaws clamped around his arm, Kevin Wilson climbed into a second-story window and tried to kidnap a 6-month-old baby girl, according to the ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Fate of FEMA leader Brock Long in doubt as Florence cleanup continues

Fate of FEMA leader Brock Long in doubt as Florence cleanup continues

WASHINGTON — While Hurricane Florence barreled through the Carolinas, a different type of storm was brewing within the federal disaster relief agency tasked with responding to the fallout.The fate of Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergen...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Largo names new fire chief

Largo names new fire chief

LARGO — After two nationwide searches that produced 119 applicants, City Manager Henry Schubert didn’t have to look far to find his new fire chief.Schubert announced recently that Chad Pittman, deputy chief of Palm Harbor Fire Rescue, w...
Published: 09/19/18
Police release name of man shot Tuesday at Tampa apartment complex

Police release name of man shot Tuesday at Tampa apartment complex

TAMPA — An 18-year-old man was critically injured Tuesday when he was shot at an apartment complex in northeast Tampa.Officers responded about 2:30 a.m. to a call about an unknown emergency at the Silver Oaks Apartments, 4200 Kenneth Court, Ta...
Published: 09/18/18
Fatal punch on Gandy median leads to manslaughter charge in Tampa muralist’s death

Fatal punch on Gandy median leads to manslaughter charge in Tampa muralist’s death

TAMPA — Police are bringing manslaughter charges against a Tampa man accused of throwing a fatal punch last April at well-known local muralist Matt Callahan.The suspect, 34-year-old Keith Mauga of Tampa, already is serving five years for aggravated b...
Published: 09/18/18
Police: Tarpon Springs man killed crossing road in wheelchair

Police: Tarpon Springs man killed crossing road in wheelchair

TARPON SPRINGS — A 58-year-old man was killed Monday after a car struck him as he was crossing the road in a wheelchair.According to Tarpon Springs police, Jon Pendleton, operating a manual wheelchair, started to cross U.S. 19 near Martin Luther King...
Published: 09/18/18
Fort Myers brothers wanted for stealing trailers caught in Pasco, taken down by K9

Fort Myers brothers wanted for stealing trailers caught in Pasco, taken down by K9

LAND O'LAKES — It started just after 9:30 Saturday night. Detectives from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office called counterparts in Pasco. Suspects they had been following through several counties might be hitting a trailer lot along Land O...
Published: 09/18/18
A gopher tortoise has been found with pink painted nails and shell

A gopher tortoise has been found with pink painted nails and shell

Photos once again are surfacing again on social media after someone painted a gopher tortoise. In a post on its Facebook page, the non-profit Owl's Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife in Odessa showed photos of a rescued female tortoise -- which is a threat...
Published: 09/18/18