Senate bill proposes concealed gun carry without a permit, adds school safety measures

The bill would standardize school threat assessment and expand the guardian program to private schools.
A variety of Smith & Wesson pistols on display at the gun range during a demo day on April 30, 2022, at Bill Jackson’s in Pinellas Park.
A variety of Smith & Wesson pistols on display at the gun range during a demo day on April 30, 2022, at Bill Jackson’s in Pinellas Park. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 10|Updated Feb. 10

TALLAHASSEE — The Senate now has its version of a bill that would allow Floridians to carry concealed firearms without a permit or training — but unlike the House bill, this one includes several provisions aimed at continuing to make schools safer from shooters.

The measure, filed Thursday by Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, was billed by the Senate president’s office as a “robust public safety package.” It would establish a standard process for handling student behavioral threats, create a Florida-based data portal to report threat information statewide and expand the program that allows school district employees to carry firearms on campus.

“This comprehensive legislation ensures our laws respect the constitutional rights of law-abiding Floridians while at the same time incorporating valuable tools recommended by law enforcement that will increase the safety of our schools and communities,” Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said in a statement.

The permitless carry provision in the Senate bill mirrors what is in the House bill. It would allow qualified people to carry a concealed firearm without going through the permitting process, which currently includes a background check, fingerprinting, a training requirement and a fee of $97 for first-time Florida applicants.

Related: Florida could soon have permitless carry. It’s not enough, some gun owners say.

While the House version of the permitless carry bill has already moved through one committee and has one more committee stop before reaching the full House, the Senate version has taken longer to get off the ground.

Passidomo has previously expressed more hesitation over a permitless carry bill than her House counterpart, Speaker Paul Renner. In a podcast interview from May, she said she thought it was a “divisive, big issue” and raised the idea of leaving it up to the voters to decide. When asked again about permitless carry in June, Passidomo said that issues related to gun laws and gun rights were top of mind for her and her constituents, then went on to mention the recent school massacre in Uvalde, Texas.

Many of the provisions in the Senate bill appear to be a continuation of efforts to tweak school safety laws in the wake of the deadly 2018 Parkland shooting.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is chairperson of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, provided input on the proposed legislation. He said the bill standardizes and takes “to a new level” previous efforts to set up behavioral threat assessment programs.

The bill tasks the Office of Safe Schools with creating a standard process for behavioral threat assessment, including procedures for how to make referrals for mental health services or to law enforcement.

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Gualtieri said in a statement that the bill is “breaking down the silos and improving the flow (of) information” by allowing for behavioral reports to follow a child from school district to school district.

The proposed legislation adds a requirement that a school official or teacher who “is personally familiar with the individual who is the subject of the threat assessment” be part of an assessment team, along with people with law enforcement, counseling and school administration expertise.

The proposed legislation also allows private schools to participate in the school guardian program, which allows a school employee to carry concealed firearms.

And it would create a Florida Safe Schools Canine Program that would put firearm detection dogs in select K-12 schools.

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