A gun bill that’s had some problems in the Florida Senate this legislative session has passed its first House committee.
Rep. Lawrence McClure (R-Plant City) says the goal of his bill is simple.
“House Bill 1419 restores the private property rights of churches and other religious institutions,” he said. “It narrowly amends the concealed weapons and firearms’ licensing law, and says specifically, that churches make their own decisions and may allow persons with licenses to carry firearms to carry on church property for security and protection.”
Normally, a church, for example, could allow licensed permit holders to have a gun on the premises because it’s private property. But, many churches and other places of worship are attached to schools.
Current Florida law does not allow guns on school property. So, someone who did bring a gun to church, when it’s attached to a school, could be charged with a crime.
Opponents of the bill say they don’t like that guns could be allowed on the school premises, just because it’s attached to a place of worship. Others say it opens the door to overriding other restricted areas.
“If religious institutions choose to have conceal weapons permit holders carrying guns on their premises, that is their choice,” said Beth Dumond with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “There is currently no law specifically preventing someone from carrying a conceal hand gun in their place of worship in Florida. But, the bill being heard here states that notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, a religious institution can authorize a permit holder to carry a gun on any property they are using, whether it is leased, owned, or even borrowed. This bill is trying to address a problem that does not exist.”
But, National Rifle Association’s Marion Hammer disagrees.
“This bill is strictly about restoring the private property rights of churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions,” she said. “These are the very same rights that private citizens, businesses, and other organizations have on their own private property. Church property is not school property. And, just because a church as a child care program or a pre-school program does not mean government can hijack a church’s property.”
And, while he voted against the bill, Rep. Ramon Alexander (D-Tallahassee) says he’s a bit on the fence—as the issue is a bit personal for him.
“I’m not there yet. It’s a tough thing to swallow,” he said. “I have a great deal of respect for Moms Demand Action and Florida PTA, but Marion Hammer made some very compelling arguments. It may sound crazy to be making some of those points. I just thought about my church where we have individuals that protect our church, we have a few undercover individuals that have been identified when we take the offering back, and my church is considering starting a school. So, does that mean that my church can no longer have guns inside the church? So, it’s a very interesting dynamic.”
But, Rep. Ross Spano (R-Dover)—who also calls it a personal issue for him—thinks it’s a pretty clear cut issue.
“I attend a church that has a school during the week, and our pastor has received death threats,” he said. “So, we are faced with the unenviable decision of committing a third degree felony for allowing our congregants to protect themselves. Not an enviable decision. This is so clear, words escape me, it’s so clear.”
And, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee passed the measure. It has one more stop before it heads to the floor. Meanwhile, its Senate companion bill is headed for a hearing Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite similar bills already failing, this is its third time coming up in that committee for the 2018 legislative session.
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