St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch took to Twitter on Wednesday to express concern about proposals before the Legislature that would allow people to openly carry firearms in public without a license or training.
He did so while wondering what that might have looked like at last weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, one of the most well-attended and widely broadcast events in the Sunshine City
“After a great weekend of Indycar racing and over 150,000 visitors, I’m imagining what the event may have looked like under Open Carry — where essentially anyone could openly carry a firearm in public,” he tweeted Wednesday afternoon from his personal account.
Gov. Ron DeSantis was recorded Thursday telling a guns rights advocate that he would “absolutely” support open carry. Current bills filed in the Florida Legislature eliminate current concealed carry permit requirements that include weapons training, a background check and fingerprinting, along with a fee of $97 for first-time applicants.
People who otherwise cannot carry a weapon would still be prohibited from doing so.
“You’d [need] no training, and in many circumstances, no background check,” Welch wrote. “It’s a bad idea for public safety and our tourism economy.”
Welch attended the annual event this weekend, and after recalling DeSantis’ comments as he roamed through the crowd, he said it conjured “a chilling vision.”
The mayor told the Tampa Bay Times that he was glad to see Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, take a stand against the legislation. In one of his tweets, he included a link to a Florida Phoenix story about how she and the Florida Sheriff’s Association are against open carry.
“It’s a nightmare for law enforcement, a drag on tourism and the economy,” he said. “I don’t want to see that in downtown St. Petersburg or on our beaches.”
Welch said he is a concealed permit holder and firearm owner who received training before Florida adopted its “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows those who feel threatened to meet force with force instead of retreating. He said his training class, taught by a Pinellas Park police officer, was beneficial and encouraged walking away from a situation if it’s possible to walk away.
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Eliminating that useful training and demonstration of competency, he said, is “a bridge too far and we shouldn’t go that direction.”
“I think having many guns visible in our community combined with the removal of any basic training or certification is a really bad formula for our future,” he said. “I’ve got a platform and I decided to say that. If folks don’t speak up for what common sense gun policy should be, then we’ll end up with that wild, wild west scenario.”
Asked if he was anticipating backlash from a governor known for pushing back against those who challenge him, or from his supporters, Welch said this is about the safety of the community, and that comes with the territory.
“The worst thing we can do is be silent when you feel strongly about something. And I feel strongly for our law enforcement officers, for our communities and for our economy,” he said. “Open carry would be a horrible idea.”