TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Floridians would be able to carry guns openly in public without a license under a bill filed Tuesday by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini.
The measure, called “constitutional carry,” is already in place in 16 other states. It would allow lawful gun owners to carry weapons openly without a license in places where concealed guns are currently allowed.
“Somebody should be able to exercise (their Second Amendment) right without a cost,” said Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican. “I don’t believe if somebody wants to defend themselves they should have to garner the permission of the government.”
Democrats and gun control advocates are likely to vehemently oppose the bill if it starts to move in the Legislature.
“It’s dangerous. Open carry is dangerous,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat. “The solution to the epidemic of gun violence is not less restrictions on guns, it’s more. We need more training, more background checks, and less guns.”
The bill, HB 273, goes further than other proposals to relax gun restrictions, such as campus carry or open carry, that have died in the GOP-controlled Legislature in recent years.
Sabatini acknowledged it could be difficult to get the measure through the Legislature when lawmakers convene for the session in January. He said some senators are thinking about sponsoring a version of the bill in that chamber, but added that it is the first time a “constitutional carry” bill has been filed in Florida.
It could take a few years before legislation on such a hot-button issue makes it into law, he said.
Since the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016 and the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018, the voices of gun control advocates have grown louder and more influential in the Capitol.
Although Democratic gun control bills, including a ban on assault weapons sales and capping magazine capacities, haven’t received a hearing, GOP-backed proposals to allow concealed carrying of guns on college campuses and open carry haven’t gained traction, either.
After the Parkland shooting, the Legislature passed a wide-ranging bill that included school safety and gun control measures, including a ban on semiautomatics for those under 21, a ban on bump stocks and a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases.
But a National Rifle Association lawsuit against the provisions is pending in federal court. At the same time, a large fraction of Republicans opposed those measures and has sought to weaken or repeal them.
Sabatini’s bill would keep in place prohibitions on carrying firearms in courtrooms, on college campuses, and in legislative meetings, but the penalty for bringing a gun to such places would be reduced from a third-degree felony to a second-degree misdemeanor.
He said gun owners accidentally or unwittingly carried guns into restricted areas, like college campuses, without realizing they were breaking the law and shouldn’t be penalized as heavily.
“You have to prove actual malice, in my opinion, to give someone a felony,” Sabatini said. “Something that can be done truly as an accident I don’t think they should be getting a felony in most cases.”
Out of the states that have constitutional carry laws, Idaho, North Dakota and Wyoming extend those freedoms only to their own residents. North Dakota’s law still requires a gun to be concealed. Sabatini’s version, however, would extend to all lawful gun owners.