The Florida Senate takes up a bill today that would endanger the public by allowing anyone who owns a gun to carry one secretly during a declared state of emergency. Critics mock it as the "bring your gun to a riot bill" because that's exactly what it would do. This legislation would only invite more chaos at the worst possible time, and it would not give gun owners any reasonable protections they don't already have. The Senate should reject it.
A similar measure died on the Senate floor last year, and while the new legislation is tailored more narrowly, Senate Bill 290 still promotes the interests of gun extremists at the expense of the public — and for no practical purpose whatsoever.
The bill would allow legal gun owners to carry a weapon during the first 48 hours of a declared state of emergency even if these owners did not possess a state concealed weapons license. The time limit was added to this year's bill at the request of the Florida Sheriffs Association, which supports the measure. But this legislation still makes no sense, and loopholes in the bill still make it virtually impossible to enforce while creating conditions that could lead to disastrous consequences.
Supporters say the bill is needed to enable gun owners without conceal-carry permits to legally transport their weapons during an emergency. Yet state law already allows those without a permit to transport a weapon, provided the gun is secured in a glove box, case or container. Gun owners are no more subject to arrest for violating the conceal-carry restrictions in these cases than they would be if they were taking a firearm to the gun range or to be cleaned.
The tighter language in this year's bill is smoke and mirrors. Creating a 48-hour window for more people to secretly carry weapons on the streets only guarantees that more guns will be in circulation in the highly charged, opening days of any state emergency. That timetable could be extended. The bill gives law enforcement no framework for deciding whether a person is in compliance by being "in the act of evacuating."
Sheriffs and other local officials could trigger the amnesty period, too, if they foresaw an "imminent threat" to peace and order that warranted a local state of emergency. The bill also conflicts with statutory restrictions against taking a gun in some cases to a public shelter. And supporters have yet to make a credible argument why such a law is needed at all.
Public tensions already run high during Florida's hurricane season, and a declared state of emergency would only heighten anxieties, as people move from the security of their homes and established routines to ride out a disaster or violent situation. This is not the environment that calls for more firepower.
It's enough that 1.4 million citizens possess a conceal-carry permit. But at least they have passed a background check and completed safety training. The Senate should not add to the danger that already exists in public emergencies. It should reject this bill and send a clear message that safety comes first.