TALLAHASSEE — Floridians soon could be allowed to carry a concealed weapon in the first two days of an emergency evacuation, even if they don't have a concealed license to do so.
The House approved SB 290 by an 86-26 vote Thursday, sending the bill to Gov. Rick Scott.
Supporters, backed by the Florida Sheriff's Association, say the legislation is necessary so lawful gun owners can take their weapons with them to avoid looting after a natural disaster.
"Imagine the thousands and thousands of weapons that are going to be left alone in people's homes when police are not available and first responders are slow in responding," said Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice.
Opponents worry that allowing concealed carry could lead to more people carrying guns during emergencies and the possibility of more injuries or deaths as frantic evacuees act less rationally than they otherwise would. And, they said the state can't vouch for unlicensed gun owners because they haven't been vetted.
"When I think about emergency evacuations, chaos, stress and anxiety are words that come to mind, and now we want to introduce guns to that equation?" said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami.
The measure stems from Hurricane Katrina, when some people fleeing New Orleans with their guns faced criminal charges and others faced danger, said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who has sponsored the bill for the past two years.
"This is about this incredibly rare instance, this incredibly tailored instance, when people are fleeing for their lives," Brandes said, debating the bill in the Senate last month. "And yet Florida statute today says if they take that weapon with them and they carry it in a certain manner, they can be charged with a third-degree felony."
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