Gov. Ron DeSantis was recorded Thursday telling a member of a gun rights group that he supports allowing Floridians to openly carry guns in public — a measure that has been publicly opposed by some law enforcement officials and that would go further than any bill now filed for the upcoming legislative session.
Luis Valdes, Florida director of Gun Owners of America, said he asked DeSantis at a book tour stop in Jacksonville Beach whether he would support open carry and if he would have it added to current bills.
“Yeah, absolutely,” DeSantis is heard to say during a 10-second interaction recorded by Valdes and shared with the Times. “I don’t think they’re going to do it, but I would absolutely.”
The governor’s office declined to comment on whether the recording was authentic, saying that the state office did not coordinate book appearances.
“The governor strongly supports the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms, and he has repeatedly stated publicly that he hopes to sign constitutional carry legislation this year,” said Bryan Griffin, a spokesperson for the governor.
Griffin also highlighted an August comment from DeSantis in which he said he’s in support of “constitutional carry” but “it really requires the Legislature to get it to my desk.”
DeSantis last year announced support for bringing “constitutional carry” to Florida, which is a term that Second Amendment advocates use to refer to the ability to carry a weapon without a permit. The 25 states that have permitless carry allow both concealed and open carry of weapons in public.
But when Florida’s legislation was filed, some gun rights supporters were dismayed to see that it allowed only for permitless concealed carry.
The legislation would allow people to skip current concealed carry permit requirements that include weapons training, a background check and fingerprinting, along with a fee of $97 for first-time Floridian applicants. People who otherwise cannot carry a weapon would still be prohibited from doing so.
Gun safety advocates have raised concerns that the lack of an additional background check could cause some people to fall through the cracks and that not requiring training will make communities less safe.
Before Florida’s legislative session even officially begins, the bill is ready to go to the House floor for a vote, and has only one other committee stop in the Senate. It has been voted for on strict party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against.
Though Florida’s legislative leaders and the bill sponsors have praised the legislation as being an expansion of Second Amendment constitutional rights, members of pro-gun groups have criticized the Republican-dominated Legislature for failing to match other states when it comes to open carry.
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Senate President Kathleen Passidomo did not respond to emails Friday asking for comment on the recording of the governor. A spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Renner said Renner has consistently stated his support for expanding constitutional rights, and that the permitless carry bill is a “significant win.”
Florida is one of the few states to prohibit open carry of weapons in nearly all circumstances. New York and Illinois also prohibit open carry. It is largely prohibited in California as well, though a small carve-out exists for counties with fewer than 200,000 people, according to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association.
Valdes, the Gun Owners of America director, has been outspoken that the permitless carry bill does not go far enough and has worked to get lawmakers to adopt open carry legislation. He has previously said that if the governor was a strong supporter of open carry, he could get the Legislature to act.
On Friday, Valdes said he hopes the governor’s recorded statement will do just that.
In Florida, it’s a third-degree felony to record another person without their knowledge. However, consent is not required for the recording of an oral communication of a person who does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as at a public meeting.
At the bill’s Senate committee stop on Feb. 20, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chairperson of the Florida Sheriffs Association Legislative Committee, expressed his support for the permitless carry measure but reiterated that he’s “a staunch opponent of open carry in Florida.”
In a text Friday responding to a question about DeSantis’ support of open carry legislation, Gualtieri said he wouldn’t address a hypothetical. He said if the permitless carry bill was amended to address open carry they would discuss it at that point. He said the Florida Sheriffs Association has no official position on open carry.