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Despite Dem Opposition, Gun Evacuation Bill Heading To Governor's Desk

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A bill allowing people to carry a gun without a concealed carry permit during a declared emergency evacuation is now heading to Governor Rick Scott.

The Senate already passed the measure weeks ago, and the House just passed the measure by  Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Fort Myers) Thursday.

“This bill is the narrowly tailored exception to the requirement to have a concealed weapons permit,” said Fitzenhagen.

But, before the vote, many Democrats voiced their opposition to the NRA-backed measure. That includes Rep. Representative Cynthia Stafford (D-Miami).

“When I think about emergency evacuations, chaos, stress, and anxiety are words that come to mind,” said Stafford. “And, now we want to introduce guns into that equation, especially by people who may not be licensed to carry a gun. That not only concerns me, but it also frightens me.”

And, she provided an example of the type of “unintended consequences” she believes could occur.

“What if someone who does not have a gun license puts their gun in their purse at a public shelter and puts it down on the floor, and a child or someone else picks it up, for that matter. That’s dangerous and concerning,” Stafford added.

And, in keeping with that argument, Rep. Ed Narain (D-Tampa) likened the measure to the passage of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law.

“I fear that in passing this bill, we could one day find ourselves reeling from one of those unintended consequences. You see, when Stand Your Ground was put into law, it was to allow people to protect themselves in dangerous potentially emergency situations. And, as we’ve seen over the years, there have been unintended consequences with that law.”

But, Rep. Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice) doesn’t see it that way. He says it’s an issue of safety, travel, and property rights. And, he says there will be unintended consequences if the bill doesn’t pass and later become law.

“Imagine the thousands and thousands of weapons that are going to be left unattended in people’s homes where police is not immediately available, and first responders are going to be delayed in responding,” said Gonzalez. “What does that do to those who are going to take unlawful and undue advantage of the situation back home?”

Last year, the original measure stalled, after law enforcement came out against the bill, saying it was too vague. This year, the Florida Sheriffs Association and other law enforcement groups are on board with bill, after a provision was put in to allow a timeframe of 48 hours for the amount time people have to evacuate with their firearms.

It also brought some Democrats, like Rep. Katie Edwards, on board. But, Rep. Lori Berman (D-Lantana) says she’s still concerned.

“I’m not sure what happens after 48 hours,” said Berman. “You’ve’ got the gun. The emergency is no longer declared. What to do you do with the gun then? You have to get it back to a place where you need it safely.”

Still, bill sponsor, Fitzenhagen says, she disagrees with a lot of the arguments.

“This is not about Stand Your Ground,” Fitzenhagen stated. “This is not about unintended consequences. The unintended consequence would be, for certain, having looters to come and take weapons and firearms that have been left behind, whether they be valuable heirlooms or just standard issued firearms. I’m frightening at the prospect of not passing this bill. If you think for one moment, that I want to walk out in an emergency situation and not be able to have some means of protecting myself or my family, you’re sadly mistaken.”

And, the measure passed the House 86-26 Thursday with most Democrats opposed. While this measure is on its way to the Governor’s desk, other gun-related measures appear to be stalled. That includes a bill allowing guns on college campuses and another allowing guns to be carried at public schools.

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.