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Open Carry Heading For The House Floor

Rep. Matt Gaetz speaking before the House Judiciary Committee.
Nick Evans

A controversial guns provision passed its final committee stop Thursday.  The measure allowing concealed weapons license holders to carry openly is headed for the House floor.

The House Judiciary Committee opened with a simple bill that could excuse some disabled Floridians from jury duty.  But the remainder of the slate was a bit more volatile.

“Thank you Mr. Chairman,” Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) says, “This strike all amendment is the consequence of negotiations I have had with the Florida police chiefs association regarding the open carry legislation that I have brought forward.”

He believes Floridians with concealed weapons permits should be allowed to carry their weapons openly.

“This allows for the open carry of hand guns only,” Gaetz explains. “It protects private property rights and makes very clear that nothing in the bill or in the law of our state impairs the right of a private property owner to be able to dictate the conduct that they would have on their own property.”

After Gaetz offered his bill, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle brought up competing last-minute amendments before it hits the House floor.  Aides passed out freshly printed copies on yellow paper.  Lawmakers shot up from their seats like popcorn—holding whispered conversations with fellow committee members, lobbyists in the audience and the bill’s sponsor.  They got tripped up trying to keep track of amendments.

The first alteration came from Rep. John Wood (R-Winter Haven).  His changes would remove civil penalties against law enforcement officers.  Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Coral Springs) proposed clarifying language that would presume probable cause if a person openly carrying doesn’t show their license.  Neither moved forward, but Gaetz agreed to address Moskowitz’s proposal on the House floor. 

Rep. Dave Kerner (D-Lake Worth) proposed an amendment that—well, here’s how Gaetz describes it.

“Representative Kerner is right,” Gaetz says, “this amendment removes the open carry portion of the open carry bill so I would ask you to oppose it.”

And although the Florida Sheriffs Association supports Kerner’s amendment, a number of individual sheriffs like Gordon Smith from Bradford County came to speak out against it. 

“The reason for that is you can’t stand up here and say here and say I support the second amendment, but—” Smith says.  “Because I challenge you to go home tell your spouse ‘I love you, but—.’  That’s not going to work.  I assure of that.” 

“And this amendment is like a glass of sweet tea,” Smith continues, “that you’ve left setting to long before dinner. It’s still a glass of sweet tea but it’s all watered down and don’t taste real good.”

Kerner did something similar earlier this cycle—amending central provisions out of an unattractive bill—on a measure strengthening stand your ground provisions, and he was successful. 

His move against open carry wasn’t.  But he says the fight in committee shows Florida isn’t ready.

“If anything is clear today it is that Florida is not ready for open carry,” Kerner says.  “I’ve seen things today that have blown my mind.   I have seen elected sheriffs stand up and vote against or waive in opposition against an amendment to protect their deputies.”

Gaetz’s bill passed the committee easily.  But not without a warning from Buddy Jacobs, a lobbyist representing the state’s prosecutors.

“In 1987, inadvertently the Legislature passed open carry,” Jacobs says.  “And guess what happened?  Just a few months later, because of the outcry of the people of Florida, they came back up here in one day and did pass it to close it again.  Because the governor called it—us, the Legislature into session, because it was a disaster.”

Florida may be in for a repeat.  The companion measure has two stops remaining in the Senate.