It's called the "bring your gun to a riot" bill. Sheriffs hate it but the National Rifle Association wants it. Guess which side 14 Florida House members from Tampa Bay chose? They stood with the NRA instead of law enforcement and voted to let almost anyone secretly carry a gun during hurricane evacuations and civil disturbances. Their answer to stressful or violent situations is more guns. That is a reckless vote that erodes public safety, and the Senate should protect Floridians and reject this wild west approach.
Don't believe the rhetoric from the NRA followers. Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, argued that her legislation, HB 209, is a "very narrowly tailored exception" to Florida's gun control laws. She said it is aimed at allowing gun owners to transport their guns during an evacuation order and to protect their families, and she claimed guns already are not allowed in evacuation shelters. Yet it appears state law only bans guns from shelters that are in public schools. Fitzenhagen also couldn't say for how long or how far someone could carry a concealed weapon after an evacuation under her bill. Could a Fort Lauderdale resident evacuate from a hurricane to Tampa and carry a concealed gun for days?
For weeks, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and the Florida Sheriffs Association have raised their voices in opposition. The sheriffs point out that state law already allows weapons to be transported in the trunk of a car, the glove box or even an unlocked cigar box. They support the status quo, which rightly requires that citizens who want to carry a loaded, concealed weapon on their person must pass a background check and have completed safety training to qualify for a license — which 1.4 million have done in Florida.
Yet the House voted for the bill 80-36 last week and sent it to the Senate. To their credit, four Tampa Bay lawmakers, all Democrats, refused to go along: Reps. Janet Cruz and Betty Reed of Tampa, and Dwight Dudley and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg.
The Senate should stand up to the NRA and embrace common sense over misguided rhetoric about defending the Second Amendment. With the leadership of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, the Senate version at least limits the permission for anyone to carry a concealed weapon to when the governor declares a state of emergency instead of including when local officials call one. Thrasher, the Rules Committee chairman, has pledged the bill, SB 296, also will address sheriffs' concerns about how far and for how long someone can travel with a secret weapon.
Other senators still care more about pleasing the NRA than the facts. Senate bill sponsor Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, was forced to acknowledge last week he has no evidence that during eight hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 any Floridian had their weapon seized by law enforcement for carrying it illegally, something that apparently happened in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
This isn't Louisiana. Florida legislators should listen to their sheriffs and common sense, not the NRA and its campaign contributions. The last thing Florida needs on the streets during hurricane evacuations or riots is more concealed guns.