A controversial gun measure that’s currently stalled in the Senate is now heading to the House floor. The bill aims to allow someone to legally carry a firearm during a mandatory evacuation without a permit.
Senate Bill Stalled
St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is the Senate sponsor of this particular measure.
“If there is a government declared emergency, and you’re forced to evacuate your home, and you are fleeing for your life essentially, you can carry a concealed weapon while you are complying with that act and you are fleeing your home,” said Brandes, during the bill's initial hearing.
So, that means in that situation, no concealed weapon permit would be legally needed.
Last week, things grew contentious during the bill’s second Senate committee stop. That’s after Captain Terrence Gorman made an appearance. He’s the General Counsel for the Florida Department of Military Affairs. That’s the agency that oversees the Florida National Guard, which is one of the first responders in a declared state of emergency.
“You know, anyone I know who owns a pistol, I always say you really should go to a carry concealed permit class because it teaches you weapon safety. It teaches you to fire a weapon, and to have people carrying concealed without that training, without an understanding of the law, of when they can and can’t use that weapon, it creates a tricky situation," said Gorman.
According to his appearance card, he was only there to speak on information. But, his comments were taken as if he was opposed to the bill. That’s the way Sen. Charlie Dean (R-Inverness) took it, who as a former Sheriff is against the measure.
“I voted to pass this bill on at the last stop. I won’t vote for it today or anytime in the future. I think we’re getting too emanative. We’re getting too far out. And, I appreciate you coming today, and I don’t think you’re position is one you have to defend. I think you put forward the position that’s in statute and law today, and I appreciate your appearance," said Dean.
"Thank you very much, sir," Gorman replied.
And, taking Gorman’s comments into account, Brandes decided to put the bill on hold. But, following the hearing, a dust-up between Gorman and the National Rifle Association’s Marion Hammer soon followed. And, later, a visibly shaken Hammer was speechless when asked about the hearing.
"I’m too upset to say right now," said Hammer, after a long pause with tears in her eyes.
Since the hearing, the Governor and the National Guard have backed away from Gorman’s testimony. They even released a letter expressing their support for the measure to Senator Thad Altman (R-Melbourne) as chair of the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee, where the bill is currently stalled. Brandes put the measure on hold a second time just this week.
“A first item on the Agenda is SB 296, carrying concealed weapon or a concealed firearm by Senator Brandes," said Altman.
"Thank you Mr. Chairman, I’ll TP the bill at this time," Brandes replied.
“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, during a recent call with WFSU.
Brandes says there’s still more work needed to iron out everything with the stakeholders. But, could the issue be dead in his chamber?
“We want to make sure we get the language right that we have working with the Governor’s office, the National Guard, our local law enforcement agencies that we all feel comfortable where the language is and we’re not there yet. And, we might not be there this year. But, we’ll continue to work on the issue. Sometimes these issues take years to resolve,” said Brandes.
According to the NRA’s Hammer, she says the measure is expected to come up for a vote again on Tuesday in Altman’s committee. But, even if it doesn’t get postponed, are the votes there? If Senator Dean votes against the bill and the four Democrats with him, the measure fails 5-4. But, Hammer appears confident the bill will get passed this year.
“I am not concerned that this bill will not pass! This is a good bill. This bill is needed and it’s that simple,” said Hammer.
House Bill Heads To Floor
Meanwhile, over in the other chamber, it’s been smoother sailing for Representative Heather Fitzenhagen’s (R-Fort Myers) bill. And, Thursday was no different, after it passed its last committee.
Major General Don Tyre even spoke at the hearing. He’s the Assistant Adjutant General for the Florida Army National Guard. He says he was representing Major General Emmett Titshaw, the head of the Florida National Guard.
“The agency head for the Department of Military Affairs Major General Titshaw was unable to be here, but he wanted me to convey to the committee this morning his support for HB 209. As always sir, the Department of Military Affairs stands ready to support the citizens of the state of Florida in their time of need and their time of emergency,” said Tyre.
Still, the measure remains opposed by the Florida Sheriff’s Association. Lobbyist Electra Bustle says while the Florida Sheriffs support people’s second amendment rights to responsibly bear firearms, they don’t support this measure that they feel does the opposite.
“In our opinion there’s a difference between owning a firearm and carrying one concealed on your person. Owning a firearm is a right. Carrying it concealed is a privilege, and it is a privilege that is earned by showing a higher degree of training and proficiency with a firearm. The question before you today is pretty simple: Do the members of this committee want to extend to a huge number of people the privilege of carrying a concealed and loaded at exactly the time they are least likely to use the weapon in a safe and responsible manner,” asked Bustle.
But, the NRA’s Marion Hammer says there is a need for the bill, and they should trust law-abiding citizens to do the right thing.
“If you leave your firearm behind, not only will you have no way to protect yourself or your family, there’s a good chance they won’t be there when you get back. They can be lost from hurricane damage or stolen by looters, and that’s poses a greater danger to emergency personnel, law enforcement, or military personnel,” said Hammer, during the hearing Thursday.
And, the measure passed the House Judiciary Committee with a near unanimous vote 17-1. In addition to the bill, Rep. Kionne McGhee (D-Miami) voted against an amendment added on to the bill that allowed for local authorities to declare an emergency, in addition to the Governor. He said he feared it might lead to the formation of “local militias.”
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.