A bill allowing people to carry a concealed gun without a permit during a declared state of emergency narrowly passed a Senate panel Tuesday. It’s a controversial issue that’s been stalled in the same committee for a couple weeks.
It was the third time’s the charm when St. Petersburg Republican Senator Jeff Brandes presented his bill before the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee.
Under Brandes’ bill, a person would be exempt from arrest for carrying a weapon or firearm concealed on their person, while complying with a mandatory evacuation order issued by the Governor or a local authority.
Twice before, Brandes put his bill on hold. Things grew contentious during a committee when a lawyer for the Florida National Guard appeared to oppose the proposal. That’s since been cleared up, but the bill still hadn’t been heard. Brandes says he was still working with other stakeholders, including the Florida Sheriffs—who oppose the bill—and the National Rifle Association, a big backer of the bill.
“Well, it keeps getting postponed because we’re going to continue to keep working on it. We want to make sure the language is right,” said Brandes.
But, that may not have been the total reason. Inverness Republican Senator Charlie Dean, who voted for the bill at its first stop, said he would never vote for it again. He claimed it went against what he believes in as a former Citrus County Sheriff. And, Tuesday, he kept his promise voting alongside most Democrats to oppose the bill. Still, it passed the committee 5-4.
However, if Brandes had allowed his bill to come up for a vote in that committee both those times, it would have failed because the deciding vote—Royal Palm Beach Democrat Joseph Abruzzo—was absent on both occasions.
“I believe I missed one vote because I had a bill up in committee that I was presenting and the second one, I was actually in the hospital,” said Abruzzo, speaking to WFSU Wednesday.
So, when the bill came up a third time in his committee, Senator Abruzzo was present and bucked his party to vote in favor of the controversial measure. He says no matter what, he had every intention of voting for it.
“I believe the bill has merit and in a time of emergency, I think that law-abiding citizens that are allowed to have a personal protection firearm should be able to carry it on them. Right now, the law is ambiguous. It doesn’t say you can of course open carry, but you cannot conceal carry. So, that said, this bill will allow those to protect themselves. And, I traditionally support a bill like this,” added Abruzzo.
Still, the Florida Sheriff’s Association continues to oppose the bill because they say it’s vague.
“And, the last thing we want is for our citizens to somehow be put in harm’s way because the law was vague and therefore, inconsistently applied,” said the group's Lobbyist Electra Bustle.
Bustle says for example, the bill does not define what complying with an evacuation order means, leaving it open to all kinds of interpretation and enforcement issues.
“And, does not place any restrictions on where a person without a permit can carry their weapon concealed, readily accessible to use…when you have left the evacuation zone? Or when you reach your destination in some other county? What if you stay in your home? Does it mean you can carry concealed around the town? Does it apply the entire time they’re out of their home, regardless of where they are in the state,” questioned Bustle.
Meanwhile, another gun measure also cleared its second legislative hurdle. It allows school administrators to appoint a former or current law enforcement officer or military officer with proper training to carry firearms on campus. They must also have a carry-and-conceal permit. The measure passed the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee 8-4 with Democrats opposed Wednesday.
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