At the exact moment public safety is most fragile — when a state of emergency has been declared — Florida legislators want to allow almost anyone to legally carry a concealed gun. That would just increase the odds of tragic consequences in unstable situations. In a state where natural disasters can be an annual occurrence, the Legislature should stand up to the National Rifle Association and just say no to this bad idea.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, are sponsoring legislation to allow even those without concealed weapons permits to carry concealed weapons during evacuation orders issued after the governor declares a state of emergency. In the House version, HB 209, the change would apply even when local law enforcement declares a state of emergency.
The Florida Sheriffs Association is opposed. "Of all the times you don't want people without permits carrying guns on the street is during riots or civil unrest," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times' editorial board. "It's the definition of insanity."
First gun rights advocates claimed the change was to ensure individuals could transfer their guns to a safe location during a hurricane evacuation or other emergency. But the law already allows for that. Guns need only be in a "securely encased" location, such as a glove box or even a cigar box, to be transported in compliance with the law.
Then advocates claimed individuals need to be able to protect themselves, the same argument they have long made in support of concealed weapon permits. But at least permit holders must pass criminal background checks and undergo gun safety training to qualify.
Bill sponsors, so far, have refused any effort to limit the legislation's reach. Law enforcement has sought limits on how far someone could travel with a concealed weapon, for example, and still be considered to be "evacuating" from their home. Does someone who travels to another city during his hometown emergency order qualify? How many days after the declaration does the exemption apply? And is there anywhere this shouldn't apply, such as a hurricane evacuation center?
The House bill is ready for a vote by the full House. The Senate bill, SB 296, has one more committee stop. This is reckless legislation that would make Florida a more dangerous place in emergency situations that are already dangerous enough.