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2A backers call a Republican plan to allow permitless concealed carry a bait-and-switch

Handheld guns for sale in a Bass Pro Shop.
Anna Jones
WFSU Public Media
Handheld guns for sale in a Bass Pro Shop.

Some Florida gun owners and their respective organizations feel betrayed by the state’s Republican majority. They believe Gov. Ron DeSantis promised them a far broader expansion on the state’s gun carry laws than what’s currently under consideration. That disappointment was on display during a Tuesday hearing on the bill.

Last Spring, Gov. Ron DeSantis made a promise to a crowd of supporters in Levy County.

”I can’t tell you exactly when but I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to sign a constitutional carry into law in the state of Florida," he said to a cheering crowd.

DeSantis also promised the law would come before his time as governor is up. That could be coming soon if he decides to run for president, as is rumored. But as of now, that promise of constitutional carry has yet to be fulfilled, and a bill under consideration that would allow gun owners to conceal carry their weapons without a permit or training is far from what’s been promised.

“'Tuck it under here,' described Alachua County resident Chris Rose, of the current way concealed carry works. "That’s not constitutional carry. That’s baiting and switching. Ya’ll are lying to your constituents."

Rose went on to say "we want constitutional carry now, we want what the other half of the country has, there’s about to be a 26th state [and] we're [Florida] is about to be a minority]. I am not a second-class citizen to the rest of America.”

According to the United States Concealed Carry Association, 25 states presently have a form of constitutional, or permitless carry. That means anyone who is legally eligible to have a gun can carry it--no permit, or training required. The bill Florida lawmakers are considering would only allow people to carry concealed guns without a permit or training. It also would not allow the open carry of firearms, which many gun advocates support. Instead, gun purchasers would still have to undergo background checks and waiting periods, and people with concealed carry permits will keep them. The process for getting those permits also remains.

" It won't change who can/cannot carry a gun. People that are prohibited now, will still be prohibited. Concealed permits will also not go away…maintaining a permit is oftentimes wise for traveling out of state as other states may require non-residents to have a permit from their state of residence," said House bill sponsor, Rep. Chuck Brannon, R-Baker County. The bill has the endorsement of the Florida Sheriffs Association.

The bill also does not lower the gun ownership age back to 18, as some groups want, nor does it do away with law enforcement's powers to strip guns away from owners who may be experiencing a mental health crisis—a process known as a Red Flag law.

Democrats on the House hearing committee are worried about the loss of the training requirement, which they believe is a safeguard. But Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri notes the state’s current training requirements are effectively useless.

“Go on your phone, go to Google," said Gualtieri. "The first thing that’s going to come back is an online training from Las Vegas, Nevada that you can do and pay a small fee for. So the training people get today is meaningless training. And it says you have to do a live-fire course? Google that. You go to a hotel and they take you to the back of the hotel and you shoot into a water barrel with a .22, and that’s the training.”  

The sheriff's association's endorsement of the bill isn’t exactly a boost for it for people like Bob White—who is opposed to the measure because it does not go far enough. White also worries Republicans will try to save face and promote the bill as something it isn’t.

"There are those who will follow me who will espouse the conventional wisdom that while this doesn’t give us all that we want, it’s at least a step in the right direction…the problem with conventional wisdom is that it is not always correct," he said in a dig at groups like the National Rifle Association, which backs the bill.

When the plan was unveiled Republicans couched it as "constitutional carry," which angered many gun rights groups.

While the bill isn’t what second-amendment rights groups may have wanted, it may be as good as what they can get for now.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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