Two bills related to gun possession on the grounds of churches and schools cleared the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Tuesday.
Republican Representative Erin Grall of Vero Beach introduced her bill allowing for licensed concealed carry on church grounds – and beyond, if they use a borrowed space.
“We know that our religious institutions are under attack, and a focus of hatred across this country,” Grall said. “What HB 403 seeks to do is to enable a church, a synagogue or other religious institution to authorize a licensed person to carry a concealed firearm on the property owned, rented, borrowed, leased or lawfully used by the institution.”
This isn’t the first time such a bill has come up, but Grall says she’s been approached by religious schools that want to provide security for students and parishioners.
Opponents see the measures as a dangerous expansion of where firearms are allowed, and paint a more alarming picture. Shannon Guse spoke on behalf of Moms Demand Action Florida.
“This bill seeks to invalidate any other gun law simply by virtue of a religious institution using a space,” Gruse said, bringing up some hypotheticals she finds troubling. “Does this body want to allow guns in prisons? Even corrections officers don’t carry guns among the prison population – but a visiting prison ministry should be allowed to do that?”
In an exchange between Grall and Representative Michael Grieco, Grall insisted the property owner would make its own rules in every situation:
Greico: “Would this apply if a religious institution was utilizing a public school property?”
Grall: “This does not affect the rights of the property owner to prohibit firearms on their property as a part of that contract.”
But Nicollette Springer with the League of Women Voters fears things like shared campuses or parking lots could create problems.
“We have some questions about – how does a person know, if you have a church and a school on the property at the same time, how does the person know if they can bring the gun into the church and not violate the parameter for which they are next to the school? There are many institutions for which it’s the same parking lot for both the school and the church,” Springer said.
Tuesday’s meeting saw another gun-related bill clear its first committee hurdle. Republican Representative Cord Byrd’s bill wants to decriminalize keeping a gun in the car in the parking lot of any school in the state, from Pre-K on up. Proponents of bill say it's meant to decriminalize licensed carry in a vehicle for parents picking their kids up or going to things like sporting events.
Byrd used one such instance as an example.
“A security guard who is licensed and bonded for the possession of a firearm for employment – who had to pick up his or her child from school, would have to in some manner remove the firearm from the vehicle prior to such pickup,” Byrd said.
Phil Archer is a State attorney for the 18th Circuit, who was at the Capitol to support the bill. Archer says he’s also a legal advisor to a concealed weapons class.
“Almost every class I teach, I have a parent or grandparent who become very shocked and dismayed when I advise them that, when they go to watch their child or grandchild at a school function – whether it’s a sporting event or chorus program, that when they have a securely cased firearm, legally and lawfully owned in their vehicle, they are committing a felony when they park their vehicle in the parking lot,” Archer said.
But opponents, like Jamie Ito with Moms Demand Action Florida, are concerned about who the bill would allow to keep a gun in their car.
“This bill is not about concealed permit holders, who have gone through at least some vetting process. It’s about anyone over the age of 18 who is in possession of a firearm. 790.25, which sets forth the right to have a gun in a car, applies to any adult – with or without a license,” Ito said.
Both bills, which have Senate companions, will next be heard by the House Education Committee.