A bill allowing people to carry a firearm without a concealed carry permit during the evacuation of a declared state of emergency is now teed up for a vote in the Senate, despite opposition from several Democrats.
Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is the Senate bill’s main sponsor.
“This bill provides an exemption for criminal penalties for the lawful gun owners carrying a concealed weapon or firearm while in the act of complying with a mandatory evacuation order issued during a state of emergency,” said Brandes.
The NRA-backed bill originally pitted the gun rights group against the Florida Sheriffs, after the sheriffs said the language in the measure was too vague for both citizens and law enforcement. That essentially tanked the measure last year in the Senate.
But, since the Brandes amended the bill this year to include a timeframe for how long people have to evacuate, both the NRA and the Florida Sheriffs have put aside their differences to support the bill.
Still, even with the new change, not everyone in the Senate is supportive of the measure.
That includes Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale), who questioned Brandes Wednesday about the need for the bill if people just go through Florida’s concealed weapons permit process.
“Because I’m trying to look at this realistically…all those that are concerned not being able to take their guns in an evacuation…by the time this becomes law—it gets passed by the House and Senate, signed by the Governor, and gets implemented—those persons that are concerned in all the e-mails that we’re getting that we want to take their guns…they can actually go through the lawful procedure that we have established in the state. And, there wouldn’t be a need for this bill if they go through the lawful procedure that we have established in this state,” said Smith, on the Senate Floor.
Brandes maintains his bill is designed specifically for lawful gun owners who did not have the time to get a license and are leaving their homes during an evacuation.
Other arguments for the bill include making sure residents have their guns, so looters don’t steal them. But, some Senators, like Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando), worry law enforcement would not be able to tell the difference between law abiding citizens and looters.
“So, let’s assume that a looter does come into a dwelling and takes a gun that has been left behind. How would that individual or any individual establish that they’re legally entitled to hold the weapon,” said Thompson.
And, Sen. Maria Sachs (R-Delray Beach) says she has a problem with the bill’s implications.
“This is a major change in the law that would give everyone in the state the ability to arm themselves, but in all my years here in Florida, I have never seen a problem that we would need to change the law to arm people to protect themselves….what prompts you to want to change the law as it exists today,” asked Sachs.
But, Brandes says he’s trying to prevent law abiding citizens from the unintended consequences of violating the technical aspects of the conceal carry law.
“If they’re on foot, it’s hard to comply with current law,” said Brandes. “And, if there’s technical violations, you can be technically in violation of the law even if it’s in your vehicle, if you’re not doing those very specific things that the law requires you, so you have to have it outside of the easy reach of your person, you have to have it in a lock gloved compartment box, or something along those lines. But, if you put it just under your seat, or if you put it in the inside of your door, that could be considered carrying a concealed weapon with you—that could be considered a third degree felony.”
The measure is now expected to come up soon for a vote in the Senate. Meanwhile, the full House is slated to consider the measure soon as well.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.