Gov. Rick Scott declines to weigh in on legislature's gun bills; legislative leaders expect them on session agenda

Published Oct. 14, 2015

As the Florida Legislature considers several highly consequential gun bills this fall in the run-up to the 2016 session, Republican Gov. Rick Scott won't say how he feels about them.

Bills already being considered by legislative committees would allow the carrying of concealed weapons on college campuses and allow the open-carrying of firearms by those who have concealed weapons permits.

Another bill filed Tuesday by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, would allow permit-holders to carry concealed weapons into public meetings -- including gatherings of local school boards, municipalities and the Florida Legislature. The bill also lifts the ban on concealed-carry in career centers. Download HB 4031_AsFiled

The cumulative effect of the bills, should all three proposals clear the legislature and be signed into law, would be significant. Concealed-carry permit-holders would essentially be allowed to openly carry firearms anywhere from townhalls and the Florida Capitol to college campuses and those private businesses that allow customers to pack heat.

"I haven't seen all the proposals," Scott told reporters Tuesday during the Associated Press' annual legislative planning day. "I believe in the Second Amendment. If they pass those bills, I'll review those bills as they pass them."

Scott gave a nearly identical response last week when asked specifically about the open-carry legislation.

Asked Tuesday how he feels about the idea of someone carrying a gun, either concealed or openly, in the halls of the Capitol -- where Scott's office is -- Scott only reiterated twice: "I haven't seen the bills."

Both the campus concealed-carry bill and the open-carry bill will be heard again Tuesday by Senate committees.

The campus concealed-carry bill received its first favorable vote last month in both the House and Senate criminal justice committees. Steube is also a sponsor of the House version of that proposal.

The open-carry bill, introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week. The Senate version, introduced by his father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, will be heard for the first time Tuesday by the Senate criminal justice panel.

House and Senate leaders said they expect gun-related bills to be considered as part of the 2016 legislative agenda, but how far they go depends on committee actions.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, told reporters Tuesday that "every one of the gun bills will get a full hearing" in his chamber.

Whether the bills are heard in committee is up to each panel's chairperson, but "if it gets all the way, I'm not going to hold it up," Gardiner vowed. "We'll vote it up or down on the floor."

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, who has a concealed-carry permit, said she opposes each of the proposals -- particularly Steube's proposal to allow guns in legislative meetings.

"I don't want to give a law-abiding honest person the opportunity to become a criminal because they become so infuriated with a position I took they decide to take me out," said Joyner, of Tampa.

She added on the concept of openly carrying firearms: "We need to understand that there needs to be a rollback on people having unadulterated rights to go anywhere."

In the House, Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said he expects the bills "will certainly have an opportunity to be vetted" and there will be "conversations that potentially change the make-up of those bills."

"That's what the committee process is about," Crisafulli said.

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said he opposes the idea of open carry in particular -- calling the proposal "outrageous" and reflective of an "extremist-type of mentality" he feels holds sway over the Florida House.

"Some of this stuff is wacky. Open carry; why even have concealed permits?" Pafford said, adding later: "I don't expect much to occur in terms of good, smart, logical gun regulation."