TALLAHASSEE — Incoming Florida House Speaker Paul Renner told a supporter his chamber would move a “constitutional carry” policy for gun owners in Florida in the next legislative session, according to a video surreptitiously recorded at a fundraising event last month and posted online.
In the video, which was filmed at a House GOP fundraising event in Ocala on May 17, a man pulls Renner aside and asks if expanding the right for Floridians to carry guns without permits would be a legislative priority.
“I can tell you, we’ll do it in the House,” Renner tells the man. “We need to work on the Senate a little bit.”
In an interview Wednesday, Renner said he didn’t know he was being recorded or who he was speaking with at the Ocala event, but confirmed the video’s authenticity. The Palm Coast Republican reaffirmed his support for “constitutional carry” legislation but said he didn’t call it a priority.
“The issue on constitutional carry is whether government should be playing a role in saying whether you can or can’t carry outside the home when you meet the basic requirements of being able to pass a background check,” he said.
In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis promised to deliver a bill allowing permitless carry before his time as governor was through. The support of Renner, who leads one of Florida’s two legislative bodies, would mean the policy would have significant momentum in the next legislative session.
Current Florida law requires handgun owners to obtain a license to carry their weapons in most public places. Open carry of weapons is mostly prohibited: Florida’s licenses only allow gun owners to carry guns concealed on their person. In order to get a concealed carry permit, a handgun owner has to take a training class that includes instruction involving the live firing of a loaded gun.
In other states, “constitutional carry” has allowed gun owners to carry their weapon without a permit — and thus without going through that training. Supporters call the policy “constitutional carry” because they argue the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms means Americans should be able to carry without the regulatory burden of obtaining a permit.
Renner isn’t coming in with a preconceived notion of what Florida’s “constitutional carry” legislation would look like and seeks to balance the liberties of the Second Amendment with the need for safety, his spokesperson, Andres Malave, said.
Despite support from Renner and DeSantis, permitless carry may face roadblocks in the Senate.
In 2021, such legislation died because it had no Senate sponsor.
Incoming Senate President Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said in a text Wednesday that issues related to firearms are top of mind for her colleagues and constituents, especially after the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, and the shootings in Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018 that killed 17 and at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016 that killed 49.
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Passidomo said she hasn’t spoken with Renner about permitless carry. In a podcast interview from May, which was recorded before the recent spate of high-profile mass shootings in the U.S., Passidomo said she had heard from constituents who support the move, and from those who worry it could impact tourism and quality of life.
“I think that it’s such a divisive, such a big issue, and the term ‘constitutional carry’ means put it in the constitution,” Passidomo said in the interview on “The Bob Harden Show.” “If that’s what you want, let the voters decide.”
Passidomo on Wednesday pointed to Florida’s red flag law as a good balance between Second Amendment rights and protecting communities and schools. That law allows law enforcement to petition for a risk protection order if they believe someone is a danger to themselves or others. If a judge approves the order, firearms are removed from a person’s home. The process allows the person given the order to oppose it in court.
Luis Valdes, Florida state director for Gun Owners of America, who posted the clip of Renner to YouTube, said he planned to push for a permitless carry policy this legislative session. Valdes believes Passidomo will come around eventually.
“She is right now kind of being a little bit squishy on the issue, but I think with a little bit of political education, she would push the bill,” Valdes said in an interview Thursday.
Legislative Democrats, who called for a special session to address gun violence, are opposed to permitless carry. Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said her party’s strategy will be to try to advocate for policies that could unite gun rights advocates as well as those who favor gun control.
“Gun owners are tired of the Second Amendment being co-opted by extremists,” Driskell said in an interview Wednesday.
She said Democrats would support legislation expanding the state’s red flag law to allow family members of people in distress, not just law enforcement, to petition to have firearms taken away from someone. Democrats also want universal background checks for gun purchases.
By Friday, just 57 lawmakers in the House and Senate had voted in favor of calling a gun violence special session — all Democrats. That figure fell well short of the three-fifths margin needed to bring lawmakers back to Tallahassee.