The National Rifle Association does not take no for an answer, and the Florida House meekly surrendered Wednesday. Without a word of debate, lawmakers voted to give gun owners an absolute right to take their weapons to work and to the store. By caving in to the NRA after two years of holding firm, legislators trampled on the rights of private property owners. A similar bill has been filed in the Senate, and it probably will be left to Gov. Charlie Crist to restore sanity and veto this affront to public safety.
The House bill bans private or public employers from prohibiting workers or customers from keeping guns locked in their cars. It primarily benefits employees with concealed weapons permits, and the employer would not even know how many workers or customers had guns in cars parked in their lots. The list of concealed weapons permit holders is no longer a public record. And employers could not make prospective employees reveal whether they had a concealed weapons permit or force them to agree not to bring their gun to work. Only four other states have such wide-open gun laws, and there is a reason for that: Rather than increase public safety, such laws enhance the possibilities for violence in the workplace.
If a co-worker or customer is shot by a gun taken from one of these cars, good luck collecting damages in a lawsuit. The business owner would be immune from civil damages.
To their credit, the business lobby has continued to fight this dangerous bill. But in an election year, even those groups are no match for the NRA. As longtime NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer watched from the front row of the House gallery, lawmakers voted 72-42 mostly along party lines to approve the bill (HB 503). Reps. Ed Hooper of Clearwater and Jim Frishe of St. Petersburg were two of just five Republicans who had the courage to join most Democrats in voting no.
Last year, a House committee defeated this bill two days after the massacre at Virginia Tech. This year, there was no national tragedy to shame lawmakers into doing the right thing.