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Gun Bill Involving Places Of Worship, Florida Schools Passes First Senate Committee


With a new change, a bill has narrowly passed its first Senate committee giving religious institutions the right to allow guns on their property, if they’re attached to a school. That’s after it’s failed twice before in that same committee for the 2018 legislative session.

Under Sen. Dennis Baxley’s (R-Ocala) original bill, places of worship with a school attached would have the right to allow concealed carry permit holders to have guns on the premises. It also applies to religious institutions that meet in a school.

That’s not the case today because guns are now allowed near or on the grounds of any Florida school.

Now, under a new change, guns will not be allowed on the church property during normal school hours.

“And, the attempt is to try and clarify that and have these congregations being able to form safety conditions, so they can stop an episode from turning into a massacre,” he said. “So, what’s we’ve done here is clarify that when we’re having church, we’re good. When it’s a school day, then those conditions prevail.”

But, Florida League of Women Voters’ Stephanie Owens doesn’t think the new change goes far enough. She says the bill still does not clearly prevent guns on the church premises that also have schools.

“Additionally, the League believes our places of worship should be gun free, that people should be able to worship without guns in their presence,” she said. “We also believe that individuals with concealed weapons don’t possess the same training as law enforcement, and therefore, will not be effective in thwarting an active shooter in that regard.”

Still, at least one gun control advocacy group is on board with the change.

“My name is Kate Kyle, and I’m a volunteer with Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America. And, we would like to thank Senator Baxley and the members of this committee for working to ensure that this bill does not effectively allow guns in our children’s schools when children are present or on college campuses at any time,” she said. “So, we support this amendment, and we ask the lawmakers to vote in favor of it.”

And, Baxley’s measure passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-4 with Democrats opposed.

That’s because this time, the two South Florida Republicans—who helped tank the bill in the past—voted in favor of the Senate measure Thursday.

But, Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) wanted some assurances from Baxley.

“And, I trust when you say it won’t be initiated by you, but my question is if the House sends something back that does not meet the spirit of this committee’s work, would you kill your own bill at this point or would you go with the House’s version,” he asked.

So did Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami), who vowed to later vote down the measure, if it’s changed back to the House version or in any other way. 

“I would say agreeing to changes to what is in this bill now, I think would violate a certain level of trust that we have amongst each other as colleagues, as Senators, and I know that’s not something that you [Baxley] would never do,” she said. “And, what we’re hoping—and I know the Rules chair is here as well—that as we move forward that it’s important for us to deal with this specific issue, and that other issues don’t cloud that because I think if we can’t get that commitment, then there might be a different vote.”

Baxley says it’s his hope to keep the bill, as is. It’s unclear if that change will show up in the House version of the bill, which passed its first committee Wednesday.

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.