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State News

Effort To Allow Local Officials To Carry Guns During Meetings Clears House Committee

Local school board, city and county commissioners could soon be allowed to carry guns during public meetings. Rep. Mel Ponder (R-Fort Walton Beach) is sponsoring the plan; it cleared a key committee Tuesday.

The house criminal justice committee passed the legislation today on a 11-3 vote. Among the “nay”s for Ponder’s bill is Rep. Spencer Roach (R- North Fort Meyers). Roach called for the bill to be amended, saying all citizen should have the right to protect themselves at public meetings.

“I think it sets a dangerous precedent when the exercise of your second amendment right or any right is condition upon your employment status and even more dangerous when it’s conditioned upon your membership in the government. We are giving a superior right to government officials that are constituents don’t have,” he said.

Roach also wants to abolish so-called gun free zones. Fellow committee member Anthony Sabatini (R-Clermont), who voted in favor of the bill, also shares this belief.

“I use a different metric when I look at a second amendment type bill. I literally just say ‘Hey is this going to expand the Second Amendment for a citizen in a time or place? And this bill does for some,” said Sabatini.

According to Okaloosa County Commissioner Graham Fountain, the measure has been in the works for several years. The proposal is a collaboration of various commissioners, school board members and city council members. Fountain believes this bill is essential to protect elected officials who are hounded daily.

“Every day we get threats! We have people stalking our staff, our commissioners. We have shooting in the panhandle at these places,” he said.

Several shootings have occurred across the nation in these types of meetings. In 2010, a man proceeded to fire six shots during a Bay County school district meeting, after the board terminated his wife. A security guard present was able to return fire shots back killing the suspect.

Some municipalities within the state lack the resources to have a security presence and Fountain says the bill could help protect locally elected officials in places that lack the financial resources to pay for officers and deputies, whether on or off duty.

Committee Chairman James Grant says he can relate to the circumstances the elected officials face having faced similar issues this past year.

“I have had security detail, I have had death threats. All I’m simply suggesting is that should our county commissioners face the same be able to carry when they meet,” he said.

Members of the legislature and citizens with concealed weapons permit are allowed to carry in the capitol building and in the offices of officials, but not in meetings of the legislative body.