Will DeSantis’ nod persuade GOP leaders to pursue an ‘open carry’ measure?
Gov said last week he ‘absolutely’ supports open carry of firearms, but said he didn’t think the Legislature would vote for it
Credit: Aristide Economopoulos/NJ Monitor
Second Amendment groups had soured on a permitless or “constitutional” carry bill moving through the Legislature because it didn’t include what’s called an “open carry” measure that almost every state in the country allows — though not Florida.
Open carry refers to the practice of carrying openly visible firearms in public.
Now, the groups are calling on their members to contact GOP leadership across the state, boosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent public comments that he supports allowing Floridians to openly display firearms in public.
“Governor DeSantis supports true open constitutional carry for Florida,” says Erich Pratt, the senior vice president for Gun Owners of America, in a video posted on the organization’s YouTube channel over the weekend. “He supports permitless carry for both open and concealed carry. That’s great news.”
Pratt goes on in the video to praise the title and what he says is “the message” of DeSantis’ just published book The Courage to be Free before adding, “yet the Republicans supermajority-controlled Legislature is afraid of advancing a true bill to make Florida free.”
In an audio recording made last week by Luis Valdes, the Florida state director of Gun Owners of America, DeSantis said “absolutely” when asked if he supports adding open carry to the current bills pushing permitless carry in the Florida Legislature, though he added that, “I don’t think they’re going to do it.”
Gun safety advocates aren’t so sure.
“This Legislature isn’t going to do anything that the governor doesn’t want, and so if the governor wants it, the Legislature may do it,” says Patricia Brigham, the president of Prevent Gun Violence Florida, who says her organization is now on “high alert” following DeSantis’ comment.
The permitless carry bill that Florida Republicans have been pushing in recent committee weeks has been strongly opposed by gun control advocates because they say it would make the state unsafe, as the measure would remove the requirement that individuals get a permit, which entails completing a firearms safety and training course, pay a license fee and provide a full set of fingerprints to the state.
But pro Second Amendment groups such as the Gun Owners of America and the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida said last month that they also opposed the measure because it did not contain the open carry provision, and thus was not “true constitutional carry.”
Bob White, the chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, has blasted the current bill as a slap in the face to the Second Amendment community.
But following the governor’s comment last week that he supports an open carry measure, White is now urging his members to contact top GOP legislative leaders to amend the current legislation and add open carry to it.
“I don’t think they’ll send him a bill that includes open carry, so our tactic is going to change a little bit now in this last week leading up to the coming legislative session,” White told the Phoenix in a telephone conversation on Monday. “We’re going to go back to putting pressure on the Speaker’s office and the Senate President’s office and the bill sponsors themselves and just reiterate what the governor said. That he would prefer to have open carry included and would sign it if they would do so. So that’s our assessment of what’s actually going on here.”
A spokesman for DeSantis, Jeremy Redfern, told the Phoenix in an email that “the state office is not coordinating book appearances, so I was not there and couldn’t confirm anything that came of it,” referring to the governor’s comment to Valdes last week. He did add that “the governor strongly supports the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms, and he has repeatedly stated publicly that he hopes to sign constitutional carry legislation this year.”
The Phoenix also reached out to the GOP sponsors of the gun bills but did not get an immediate response.
One theory about why GOP leaders have not pushed for open carry in this year’s session is that the idea is not supported by the powerful Florida Sheriffs Association. However, a spokesperson for the organization told the Phoenix today that the organization has not officially weighed in at all on the proposal.
“FSA does not have an official position on Open Carry at this point since there isn’t any formal legislation on Open Carry specifically,” wrote FSA spokesperson Logan Lewkow in an email.
Florida has had a reputation for years if not decades of having some of the loosest restrictions on firearms in the country, but in fact the state is one of less than a handful in the country that does not allow for openly carrying firearms in public.
Open carry is not allowed in Illinois and in New York. It is also generally prohibited to openly carry a firearm in California. However, the sheriff of any county in California with a population under 200,000 people or the chief of police of a city within that county may issue licenses to carry a loaded, exposed handgun, according to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association.
The permitless carry bill in the Florida Senate (SB 150) goes before the Fiscal Policy Committee on Thursday at 9 a.m. Its House companion (HB 543) has cleared both its committees it was assigned to and is now set to go for a House floor vote at any time.
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