Over opposition from sheriffs, open-carry gun bill squeaks through House panel

Open carry squeaks through a House committee
Open carry squeaks through a House committee

Legislation that would allow concealed weapons holders to openly carry guns in Florida narrowly cleared a House committee Wednesday, after changes aimed at resolving concerns raised earlier by business groups.

The Justice Appropriations Subcommittee approved the measure 7-6,  with even two usually gun-friendly Republicans against the bill (CS/HB 163) by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. Several lawmakers cited the Florida Sheriffs Association’s opposition to the proposal as guiding their decision.

“We don’t need full-blown open carry. It’s not good for Florida,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who pointed out that 47 of the state’s 67 sheriffs had agreed to fight the legislation.

The open-carry measure would allow the more than 1.4 million Floridians with concealed weapons permits to walk the streets with handguns displayed – not tucked into a purse, under a jacket or in a pocket.

Supporters say it will enhance public safety. They also said it is merely an extension of constitutional firearms protections.

Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, acknowledged that reaction to the legislation was polarizing. But in supporting the bill, Spano said he would vote, “on the side of the constitution.”

The action came after Gaetz also endorsed amendments to the bill that underscored the right of property owners to prohibit guns from being openly carried in their bars, restaurants and other public buildings. Another change added was aimed at assuring that guns couldn’t be displayed recklessly.

Although 43 states now allow open-carry, opponents argued it would hurt Florida’s lucrative tourist industry, confuse law enforcement in tense situations, and heighten the risk of violence for Floridians. Gualtieri also said that just because other states had embraced open-carry, that didn’t make it right for Florida.

“Montana is not Miami,” Gualtieri said.

Florida House members who are former cops oppose campus, open-carry gun bills

Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, led several House Democrats who are former law enforcement officials opposing gun bills
Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, led several House Democrats who are former law enforcement officials opposing gun bills

A handful of House Democrats with law enforcement backgrounds Tuesday condemned advancing legislation that would allow concealed weapons holders to openly carry guns in Florida and also have them on college campuses.

Led by Rep. Dave Kerner, a Lake Worth Democrat and former Alachua police officer, the lawmakers said the measures would only add to the risk of more gun violence at schools, shopping malls, on city streets and virtually anywhere else the public gathers.

“I do believe the NRA (National Rifle Association) is playing a very persuasive role in this debate,” said Kerner, who added that a prime concern for him was that the legislation fails to include any standards assuring that those with weapons would be skilled at handling them in public settings.

The legislation is moving forward in the House and Senate. While the proposals have been floated before, they seem to be gaining new momentum with a major election year on the horizon.

At every committee stop so far, the measures have drawn heated debate. Law enforcement agencies and campus administrators have criticized the bills as potentially sparking more accidental gun violence and causing confusion for police arriving at a scene where a number of people are toting weapons.

“As a retired cop from New York City…we don’t need to put more guns out on the street,” said Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, a former transit detective.

Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua, a former deputy police chief, said the bills, ” would put our officers in harm’s way.”

The open-carry measure would allow the more than 1.4 million Floridians with concealed weapons permits to walk the streets with handguns displayed – not tucked into a purse, under a jacket or in a pocket.

Although 43 states now allow open-carry, opponents have argued it would hurt Florida’s lucrative tourist industry, confuse law enforcement in tense situations, and heighten the risk of violence for Floridians.

Supporters said it would enhance public safety.

“I call this the Crime Protection 101 bill,” Sheriff Gordon Smith of rural Bradford County, told a Senate committee last month. “Criminals pick soft targets…I’d rather know who’s got the gun than guess who’s got the gun.”

A similar argument is used to promote the campus carry measure.

Rebekah Hargrove, with Florida Students for Concealed Carry and a graduate student at Florida State University, said recently that students who qualify for a weapons permit have a right to protect themselves and others.

“We are extremely responsible citizens,” Hargrove said.

 

It’s open season for gun bills in the Florida Senate

Guns getting the go-ahead from Florida lawmakers
Guns getting the go-ahead from Florida lawmakers

In the wake of high profile shootings across the nation, state senators approved three major gun bills Tuesday, exposing deep divisions within the state over how to shield Floridians from random violence.

Legislation sailed through committees to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry handguns openly, another that lets them have guns on college campuses, and another proposal seen by critics as expanding the self-defense, ‘stand your ground’ law.

Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, a sponsor of the campus gun bill (SB 68) said Floridians want the state to enhance their ability to fight back.

“Each of these bills are actually targeted at specific issues that have happened recently,” Evers said. “It’s time that we changed the Florida statutes to stop gun-owners from being nailed to the cross.”

But Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said the Legislature’s Republican leaders are ignoring the views of many Floridians who think fewer guns are needed.

“I’m not sure why,” Gibson said, adding, “How do any of these bills reduce gun violence?”

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