Despite DeSantis support, lawmakers exclude open carry from gun legislation

The permitless carry bill’s final stop was the same day as an advocacy day for Moms Demand Action, a gun safety organization
A variety of Smith & Wesson pistols on display at the gun range during the Smith & Wesson Demo Day at Bill Jackson’s on Saturday, April 30, 2022, in Pinellas Park.
A variety of Smith & Wesson pistols on display at the gun range during the Smith & Wesson Demo Day at Bill Jackson’s on Saturday, April 30, 2022, in Pinellas Park. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Mar. 9|Updated Mar. 9

Legislation that would allow Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training is ready to be taken up by the full House and Senate — without a change to allow people to openly carry guns in public.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis was recorded by a pro-gun group last week saying he was in support of permitless open carry, legislative leaders have stayed firm that the measure will only apply to the concealed carry of guns. DeSantis has said he won’t veto the bill just because it may not include “everything I want.”

As the bill moved Thursday through its final committee in Florida’s Senate, members of the gun safety group Moms Demand Action crowded into the meeting room while others gathered to kick off their advocacy day at a Tallahassee church. Volunteers also laid out a field of white roses in front of Florida’s old Capitol building, representing Floridians who died from guns the previous year.

The gun legislation has sailed through the House and Senate, completing most of its stops before the official start of the legislative session even began this week. But both gun rights and gun safety groups have expressed concerns about the bill.

Gun safety advocates fear it would make the community less safe. Pro-gun groups have said the bill doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t allow gun owners to carry their guns openly in public. They said without that provision, the bill isn’t true “constitutional carry” — a phrase used by supporters who believe the Second Amendment gives gun owners the right to carry without any additional permit.

Related: Bucking DeSantis, St. Pete mayor calls idea of open carry ‘chilling’

Bill sponsor Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, said the measure is about ”a constitutional right to keep and bear arms and that is what we’re fighting for right now.”

The bill would allow people to carry a concealed weapon without an issued permit, which currently requires an extra background check, fingerprinting and firearms training. People who are disqualified from carrying guns would still be prohibited from doing so under state law.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has expressed support for the bill but said she is not in favor of going further and allowing open carry after hearing feedback from Florida sheriffs.

“The sheriffs who I deeply respect, who are in the business, who understand the issues, do not support open carry in the state of Florida, they support permitless carry,” Passidomo said.

The Florida Sheriffs Association has endorsed the bill as it stands now, and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri provided feedback on some school safety components of the legislation.

Gualtieri, the chairperson of the Florida Sheriffs Association Legislative Committee, said the group does not have a formal stance on open carry but that he shared with Passidomo that he and the “bulk” of sheriffs he knows are opposed to open carry.

“We’ve conveyed that to the president and I applaud her for standing firm,” he said.

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Gualtieri said it’s a misconception that Florida doesn’t allow for any type of open carry and pointed out that laws allow it when coming back from fishing and other activities.

But even in those cases, he said, his agency gets calls all the time from concerned residents about people along the gulf beaches who have an AR-15 slung over one shoulder and a fishing pole on the other.

Related: He walked Clearwater Beach with an AR-15. Is he a menace or a martyr?

Former firearms lobbyist Matt Collins told the committee that the exclusion of open carry reflected “political impotence” on the part of DeSantis.

“I like Gov. DeSantis, but quite frankly the inability to get open carry included in this bill is embarrassing for him,” Collins said. “It’s failed leadership. It’s weak.”

A representative of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics asked the committee that adequate training be required as part of the bill, saying that firearm deaths are the No. 1 cause of death for children.

In the 2021-22 fiscal year, more than 8,000 people who applied for concealed-carry licenses were denied as being ineligible, although data from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services does not say why.

Also on Thursday, a federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of a 2018 gun law in Florida that prohibits people under 21 years old from purchasing firearms.

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