The opposition to Florida’s proposed legislation to allow Floridians to carry concealed firearms without a permit or training was expected from gun safety advocates.
But at a Tuesday hearing on the bill, there were just as many disgruntled Second Amendment supporters, who said the bill didn’t go far enough because it doesn’t allow for open carry, the visible carrying of a firearm.
Only a few of the dozens of public commenters told legislators they were happy with the measure as written. But Republican members of the House Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law and Government Operations Subcommittee passed the bill out of the committee on a 10-5 vote along party lines.
The bill now only has one other committee hearing to move through before it goes to a vote on the House floor. House Speaker Paul Renner has expressed strong support for the bill, holding a news conference last month with uniformed sheriffs to announce its filing.
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has also expressed her support for the measure, though no matching legislation has yet been filed in the Senate. Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, has said he will be the bill’s sponsor.
Permitless carry, often called constitutional carry by supporters, allows people within certain legal parameters to carry weapons without having to go through the permitting process. In Florida, that process includes a background check, fingerprinting, a payment of $97 for a new application and the completion of a training course, which includes firing a live round in front of an instructor. Gun carriers would be required to carry a personal ID.
Some of those gun rights advocates said Florida’s proposal is not true “constitutional carry” because it applies only to people being able to carry a concealed weapon; it doesn’t permit open carry of weapons in public and still restricts gun possession for people under the age of 21 and on college campuses.
“To call this bill constitutional carry is an insult to our intelligence,” said Bob White, the chairperson of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida.
Luis Valdes, Florida director of Gun Owners of America, said the bill is a step in the right direction compared to prior years when similar bills didn’t make it out of committees. But he said it doesn’t go far enough.
“The governor has pledged he wants constitutional carry, he didn’t pledge that he wants permitless concealed only,” Valdes said.
Speakers with March for Our Lives, a gun safety organization that began after the Parkland shooting, and the gun safety group Moms Demand Action also spoke in opposition to the bill, raising concerns about the number of mass shootings across the nation and a fear of increased violence.
Catherine Allen, who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2019, said she and her peers have grown up afraid of gun violence. Feb. 14 will be the fifth anniversary of the shooting at the school in Parkland, where 17 people died and another 17 were injured.
“It feels like that experience that the youth has in states like Florida or in America as a whole is being invalidated for what seems like a political agenda,” she said.
Democratic lawmakers have pushed back against the idea of excluding any training requirement. Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, D-Parkland, called the measure “untrained carry” when it was first unveiled by Republicans.
Rep. Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he encourages training and thinks it is important, but that it is a personal responsibility.
“I don’t think it says in the United States Constitution that you have to have training to carry a gun,” he said.
In response to the calls for open carry, Brannan said the bill “is what it is as it’s filed.”
People who are forbidden from owning a firearm would not be able to qualify for permitless carry. That includes those with felony convictions, people who have been committed to a mental hospital and people with certain arrests related to substance use.
Under the proposed legislation, people are still prohibited from carrying concealed weapons in certain establishments, like courthouses, polling places and legislative meetings.
Rep. Jervonte Edmonds, D-West Palm Beach, filed an amendment to expand the prohibited areas to include more locations, including grocery stores, religious institutions and music festivals, but his amendment failed.
The Florida Sheriffs Association has endorsed the legislation. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the former association president, spoke in favor of the bill during Tuesday’s hearing.
Gualtieri said criminals don’t stop to get concealed carry permits, and noted that the proposed legislation keeps in place prohibitions against people who wouldn’t be able to carry a weapon. He said the existing training is often done online and is “meaningless.”
Research on permitless carry is lacking. Twenty-five states currently have the measure in place, most of which adopted it in the past few years, making it hard to study long-term effects.
In the previous fiscal year, about 33,000 people were denied a concealed carry permit in Florida — the majority because of incomplete documentation. About 284,000 people got a new concealed carry permit during the same time period, and about 94,000 got their licenses renewed.
Brannan said maybe it was a good sign that people on both sides of the gun debate opposed the bill.
“Maybe we’re in the right spot,” he said.
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