TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday promised to push for a bill allowing Floridians to publicly carry firearms even if they have not previously taken a training course or gotten a permit.
“I can’t tell you exactly when, but I’m pretty confident that I will be able to sign ‘constitutional carry’ into law in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “The Legislature will get it done. I can’t tell you if it’s going to be next week, six months, but I can tell you that before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on that bill.”
The governor made his remarks at an unrelated news conference in Williston.
The term “constitutional carry” is a name for the policy often used by its supporters, who argue citizens should be able to carry weapons with or without a permit because of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.
Handgun owners in Florida are currently required to get a license to carry their weapons in most public places. Those licenses allow them to carry the weapons concealed on their person. In order to get a concealed weapon permit, a handgun owner has to take a firearms training class that includes instruction involving the live firing of a loaded gun.
Gun owners are allowed to openly carry their firearms without a permit in certain limited circumstances: while hunting or while traveling to and from a hunting expedition, for example.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat whose department oversees the state’s concealed carry permit program, blasted DeSantis’ call for permitless carry in a statement Friday.
“This is absurd political pandering from the governor of a state that has experienced some of the worst mass shootings in our country’s history and in a nation where we have the highest rates of gun violence in the world,” Fried said. “It’s an insult (to) the memories and families of every victim of gun violence.”
Fried is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for governor to oppose DeSantis in his reelection bid in November.
Despite Florida’s “Gunshine State” reputation as a place for gun deregulation, it’s one of the more restrictive states when it comes to dictating how people can carry firearms. It does not allow “open carry” in most instances, which makes the state different from the more than 40 states that give people the right in some form to carry firearms without concealing them.
Some 25 states have already enacted a permitless carry law, according to the United States Concealed Carry Association.
Andrew Warren, the Democratic State Attorney for Hillsborough County, blasted the idea of “permitless carry” in a series of tweets Friday.
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“Permitless carry is not a (constitutional) issue,” Warren tweeted. “No sane person thinks the (Second Amendment) protects owning a nuclear weapon, which shows (the Constitution) permits reasonable regulations on (the) right to bear arms. Only issue is whether it’s reasonable to require permit to conceal — and it is.”
In the past, Florida’s sheriffs have been resistant to bills relaxing gun restrictions. In 2016, the Florida Sheriffs Association, with the help of Pinellas County’s Republican Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, proposed a bill aiming to head off efforts to pass a measure allowing open carry. A bill allowing open carry passed the Florida House that year before dying in the Senate.
A spokesperson for the Florida Sheriffs Association said the organization’s legislative committee had not discussed anything related to constitutional carry because no such bill has been heard by the Legislature.
Constitutional carry can apply to policies allowing gun owners to carry weapons openly or concealed on their person. For example, in Texas, people once had to have a permit to openly carry guns or to carry guns concealed on their person. But in 2021, after that state’s governor signed a permitless carry bill into law, Texans gained the right to carry weapons openly or in a concealed manner without a permit. (That bill did not apply to people who are not legally allowed to possess a gun.)
A bill filed in Florida during the 2022 legislative session by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, would have allowed permitless concealed carry, and it would have allowed for the open carry of firearms. It would not have applied to those legally barred from possessing a firearm. Republican leaders never gave the measure a hearing.
In a follow-up email Friday, a DeSantis spokesperson did not offer specifics on the type of permitless carry policy proposal DeSantis favors.
There had been some signals of support from Republican leaders for constitutional carry before Friday. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said in January he would support such a measure. And in March, DeSantis said he could see the policy being brought up during a special session this year.
The Legislature is scheduled to meet next in May for a special session on “property insurance, reinsurance, changes to the Florida Building Code to improve the affordability of property insurance, the Office of Insurance Regulation, civil remedies and appropriations.”
Unless the governor changes the terms of the special session — which he has been known to do — it’s unlikely that lawmakers will debate gun restrictions next month.
Times reporter Tony Marrero contributed to this report.