Permitless carry bill speeds through process despite concern on both sides

Florida’s permitless carry bill has only one committee stop left in the Senate, and is now available for a full House vote.
A table of firearms at the Florida Gun Show in Tampa.
A table of firearms at the Florida Gun Show in Tampa. [ ZACHARY T. SAMPSON | Times ]
Published Feb. 21|Updated Feb. 22

TALLAHASSEE — Before Florida’s legislative session even begins, the bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit is just a few steps away from becoming law.

That’s despite concerns being raised both by gun rights supporters and those wanting stronger safety measures. Second Amendment advocates say the legislation is a false fulfillment of the promise for “constitutional carry.” Gun safety advocates, especially younger students, say the Legislature isn’t listening to their fears about firearm-related violence.

With Republican supermajorities in both chambers, and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ interest in the measure, the bill seems certain to have an easy path toward the governor’s desk.

The legislation would allow qualified Floridians to carry a concealed weapon without a permit and without training, although it does not go so far as to allow open carry of guns, which proponents of “constitutional carry” legislation are lobbying for. The bills in both the House and Senate now also include measures meant to standardize and refine school safety measures taken after the Parkland shooting in 2018.

After about five hours of deliberating and public comment, the Senate Criminal Justice committee voted 5-3 along party lines in favor of the bill Monday afternoon. The House Judiciary committee voted 16-7 for the bill on Tuesday.

The measure now has only one additional Senate committee stop before a full floor vote, and no other committees to move through in the House.

Republican Sen. Jay Collins of Tampa, who sponsored the Senate legislation, said the bill boils down to protecting constitutional rights.

“We believe in our constitutional right to bear arms to protect those things most valuable and most loved by us,” Collins said. ”We do not believe that there is a requirement to have that permit in that process.”

Luis Valdes, the Florida director for Gun Owners of America, said he came away from the Senate meeting agreeing with a political opponent, Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo, who on Monday told Second Amendment advocates that they had been sold a “bad bill of goods.”

Valdes said true “constitutional carry” would allow gun owners to carry them openly in public without a permit. He said the bill is being put through because DeSantis “needs that political checkbox marked off for his campaign.”

Valdes said he believes the governor is pro-gun. But he said permitless open carry legislation must not be a priority for DeSantis, or else the bill would be amended to make it happen.

“As we’ve seen historically with the governor dealing with the Legislature, if he tells the Legislature to jump, they ask, ‘How high?’” Valdes said.

Volunteers with Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action have come out at each stop to oppose the bill, saying they fear the lack of training will make the public less safe.

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One volunteer joked during Monday’s Senate meeting that she felt like she was in “bizarro world” and said, “Apparently no one is in favor of the bill, so let’s just shut it down.”

Rep. William Robinson, R-Bradenton, said he takes “very seriously” the Florida Sheriffs Association’s endorsement of the bill, and said he appreciates the testimony from people on all sides.

“To me, this is the most pro-Second Amendment bill I’ve seen in my four years,” he said.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who spoke in favor of the bill and helped craft the school safety components, said the legislation opens the door to better training than what is currently required — which he said is inadequate — by allotting $1.5 million for local law enforcement agencies to provide their own firearm training.

“This bill would do more and be more effective for training than what we have on the books today,” Gualtieri said.

On Tuesday, Students Demand Action volunteers, college students and elected Florida Democrats gathered on the Capitol steps to oppose the bill and to call for an end to gun violence. Alexis Dorman, a 19-year-old Florida State University sophomore and Students Demand Action volunteer, said she put together the rally after realizing the permitless carry bill was moving along faster than she anticipated.

“Being in a generation where you see people the same ages as you dying ... it’s a hard thing to watch and it makes you want to do something,” Dorman said.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the House Democratic leader, said students have seen too much gun violence in their generation and not enough efforts to stop it.

“If we want to see actual commonsense gun laws, we have to change the composition of this Legislature,” Driskell said.

She said it was “offensive” that school safety provisions had been included in the permitless carry legislation, which she said will make communities less safe. On Monday, the Senate committee rejected a motion from Pizzo to split the bill into two.

Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said having the two together was a “cynical political ploy.”

“I would never vote against school safety, but today I have to,” she said.

Twenty-five states have permitless carry measures, which allow for people not otherwise prohibited from carrying a firearm to carry a gun without a license or required training.

Florida’s proposed legislation retains most locations where people cannot carry weapons, including courthouses, polling locations and meetings of the Legislature. People who are otherwise disqualified from carrying a weapon — including people with felony arrests or certain arrests related to substance abuse — still could not legally carry a gun.

Florida’s current permit requirement includes a background check, fingerprinting, firing a gun in front of an instructor, a training course and a fee of $97 for a first-time Florida licensee. Floridians could still choose to get a concealed carry permit, which would allow them to carry their firearm in other states that recognize Florida’s license.

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