Florida could become the 26th state to allow people to carry concealed loaded guns anywhere without permits under legislation endorsed Monday by House Speaker Paul Renner and the Florida Sheriffs Association.
Dubbed “constitutional carry” by supporters, the concept behind the bill (HB 543) also has the backing of Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.
The proposal, however, makes no change in current laws limiting the open display of sidearms or long guns, or so-called “open carry” – an expansion some gun advocates want but which has drawn pushback in a state so dependent on tourism.
“Florida led the nation in allowing for concealed carry, which extends today as we remove the government permission slip… to exercise a constitutional right,” said Renner, R-Palm Coast.
Florida’s concealed weapons permitting would continue under the proposal. Renner said that some residents might want the permit to carry their concealed weapons to other states under reciprocity agreements.
Last year, the legislation stalled Florida gun rights advocates hopping mad about a seemingly stalled ‘constitutional carry’ bill.
Florida has 2.6 million concealed weapons permits. And residents who receive a permit must have undergone firearms training, along with clearing a background check that shows they are not convicted felons or fall under a host of other restrictions.
The permitless carry approach backed by state Republican leaders doesn’t change current laws for buying a gun. But it would lift the need for a state permit with firearms training.
“I think we can assume that our citizens are going to do the right thing when it comes to carrying and bearing arms,” said Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association.
In a statement, the organization Prevent Gun Violence Florida decried the proposal – set to go before lawmakers during the session which begins in March.
“Permitless carry laws endanger the public by removing vital safety measures designed to ensure that those carrying concealed weapons have been properly trained and vetted,” the organization said.
“In an era of increased mass shootings and rising gun crime, it is outlandish that our Legislature is being asked to loosen gun restrictions rather than strengthen them,” it added.
Giffords, the gun safety organization founded by former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, said it would fight the Florida measure. Last fall, a poll by the organization showed that 61% of Florida voters opposed permitless carry.
Gifford’s senior advisor, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a former Democratic member of Congress from Miami, pointed out that Florida is home to two of the nation’s worst mass shootings — Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The unveiling of the legislation Monday also comes after a week marked by two mass shootings in California.
“We are here to fight back,” Mucarsel-Powell said.
The National Rifle Association, however, lauded the proposal.
“Half of the country currently recognizes the fundamental right of law-abiding gun owners to carry a firearm for self-defense as enshrined in our Constitution,” said Art Thomm, NRA Florida state director, in a prepared statement. “The NRA is proud to have led this effort across America and looks forward to welcoming Florida into the fold of freedom that constitutional carry provides.”
The legislation (HB 543) was filed Monday by Rep. Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa.
With Republicans holding super-majorities in the House and Senate, the legislation is almost certain to win approval.
But some allies don’t think the measure goes far enough – by failing to allow anyone to carry a firearm in Florida openly.
Former state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican who lost a congressional bid last year, challenged DeSantis to demand more.
“Constitutional Carry without Open Carry is fraudulent. Going along with this weak bill would be a major stain on his record,” Sabatini tweeted Monday.
Luis Valdes, Florida director of Gun Owners of America, said his organization will work to expand the measure to include open carry.
The group, Everytown for Gun Safety, has conducted an analysis showing that handgun homicide rates have risen by 11% in states that weakened their gun permit laws. A study last year by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health also found that police shootings had increased by 13% in 10 states that approved permitless carry laws from 2014 to 2020.
Florida House Democrats also seized on the safety point in cautioning against the legislation.
“Untrained carry does not make our communities safer,” said Rep. Christine Huschofsky, D-Parkland, who was mayor of the community where the 2018 slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School occurred, sparking the Legislature to enact some gun restrictions, including “red flag” laws and raising to 21 the minimum age to buy a firearm.
But supporters said that expanding the rights of people to be armed will help residents feel more secure.
“This bill is a big step to help the average, law-abiding citizens to avoid having to go through the hoops of getting a permit from the government to carry their weapons,” Brannan said. “It is also not going to change who can and who cannot carry a gun.”