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Is Trouble Brewing Again Between Florida Sheriffs, NRA Over Gun Evacuation Bill?


Trouble could be brewing again between a group of Sheriffs and a huge gun rights organization over a controversial gun bill that failed last year.

Last year, a bill allowing people to carry guns without a license during a state mandatory evacuation passed the House, but failed to pass the Senate. And, the Florida Sheriffs Association had a big hand in it that outcome. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who represents the FSA, says the language was too loose.

“Our problem with it is the language of the bill, and what it doesn’t do to show people the rules so that their rights are protected. The last thing in the world I want to see is a law-abiding citizen who hasn’t been in trouble in his or her life ended up getting arrested because they’re carrying a concealed firearm because they didn’t understand them and misapplied them,” said Gualtieri.

The Sheriffs group backed an amendment that they say provided clarity.  But, bill Sponsor, St. Petersburg Republican Senator Jeff Brandes, says that effectively killed the bill and he withdrew it from consideration. He vowed to file it again, which he did weeks ago.

“It’s exactly the same as last year’s bill,” said Brandes. “So, my concern is I don’t really understand the main concern of the Florida Sheriffs Association.”

He added,“They wanted some of the protections of this legislation to end at the county line. Well, the county line in Pinellas County is sometimes in the middle of a bridge. So, to say, well, you can take it up to this imaginary county line. And, then, beyond that you can be convicted of a felony, and all you’re trying to do is flee an evacuation. I think people have enough to be concerned about. It’s not about just being a declared emergency. You have to be under a mandatory evacuation. You know, if someone is saying, ‘grab your dogs, grab your kids, get in the car, and go, flee for your life…that this bill would even kick in and you’d be protected under this legislation. So, it’s an incredibly rare circumstance that this would be allowing.”

And, the NRA’s Marion Hammer agrees, calling the bill a must-have for the state and dones’t understand the FSA's ’opposition either.

“And, if you leave firearms to looters and criminals, that makes the situation even more dangerous for law enforcement and first responders,” said Hammer. “In a hurricane-prone state like Florida, this bill is a no-brainer. When families are ordered to evacuate their homes, they must take children, pets, personal valuables and flee. They need to be able to take their guns with them for protection. You have to seriously question the motives of anyone who opposes that.”

So, has she been in talks with the Florida Sheriffs Association to look into their concerns since the bill failed to pass?

“No, we’re not working with them or talking with them,” replied Hammer. “When they declared war on the Second Amendment and refuse to recognize the needs of the constituents that put them in office and put their own personal, political philosophies and their own convenience ahead of the constitutional rights of the citizens they represent, there’s really nothing to talk about.”

Hammer feuded in public with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd in his capacity as the head of the Florida Sheriffs Association over the gun bill last year, but there’s since been a change of leadership. And, Hammer says if someone is willing to talk to her, she’d be willing to do the same.

“We’re always willing to sit down and talk to people who want to talk about issues,” continued Hammer. “No one has reached out to us as yet.”

Meanwhile, Gualtieri says he’s willing to do the same: work with the sponsors as well as Hammer. And, as to his response to Hammer’s earlier remarks?

“I mean if she wants to throw words around like that, that’s all they are, is words, a bunch of rhetoric,” said Gualtieri. “The Sheriffs haven’t declared war on anything. We’re strong supporters of gun rights. We’re strong supporters of the Second Amendment, but we’re also strong supporters of good legislation and properly worded legislation.”

The Senate bill has already been referred to committees. And last year’s House bill sponsor Republican Representative Heather Fitzenhagen recently filed the House companion again.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.