Florida GOP leaders make it clear that they don’t support ‘open carry’ legislation this year

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo says she doesn’t support it because the Florida Sheriffs Association doesn’t

By: - March 8, 2023 10:29 am

JERSEY CITY – MARCH 25: Lisa Caso sells guns at Caso’s Gun-A-Rama store on March 25, 2021 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Caso’s Gun-A-Rama has had a significant increase in business with lines often out the door as more people buy guns for security and for fear that there will be increased bans on them. In the wake of recent mass shootings, the Biden administration is pushing for the Senate to pass gun legislation already passed by the House. Area gun businesses have seen a rise in sales recently that has even led to a shortage of bullets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made it clear once again on Tuesday that he would sign legislation including what’s called “open carry” — the practice of carrying openly visible firearms in public — but he also added that it would be up to legislative leaders to send him such a bill.

Currently, lawmakers are pursuing a permitless or “constitutional” carry proposal that is making its way through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

“Now I’m going to sign what they do,” DeSantis said to reporters. “So if they do a permitless bill and that gets to my desk, you know I’m not going to veto that because it didn’t necessarily have everything I want.”

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said she doesn’t support open carry, because the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA), which carries considerable clout with GOP lawmakers, doesn’t want it.

“The sheriffs who I deeply respect, who are in the business, who understand the issues, do not support open carry in the state of Florida, they support constitutional carry,” Passidomo said on Tuesday at a news conference. “Their definition of constitutional carry is you don’t need a permission slip to carry a concealed weapon.”

That permitless carry bill would repeal the current state law that requires an individual who purchases a firearm to get a permit, which entails completing a firearms safety and training course, pay a licensing fee and provide a full set of fingerprints to the state. That’s the law in 25 other states around the country.

But Second Amendment supporters say that it’s not a “true constitutional carry bill” because it does not allow for openly carrying visible firearms in public. Some of those advocates have told GOP lawmakers in committee meetings that they oppose the bill without the open carry provision.

Luis Valdes, the Gun Owners of America’s Florida state director, wasn’t impressed by Passidomo’s comments.

“As a 15-year law enforcement officer, I find such a statement ludicrous, especially for the fact that the rest of the country has open carry, and their cops can deal with it without a problem,” he said.

In fact, only New York, Illinois and parts of California are the only states in the nation that don’t allow for any open carry at all. (In California, the sheriff of any county with a population under 200,000 people or the chief of police a city within that county may issue licenses to carry a loaded, exposed handgun, according to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association).

The Florida Sheriffs Association has not officially stated opposition to open carry, “FSA does not have an official position on Open Carry at this point since there isn’t any formal legislation on Open Carry specifically,” spokesperson Logan Lewkow told the Phoenix in an email sent earlier this week.

However, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chairperson of the association, told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee last month that he is a “stanch opponent of open carry. We don’t need open carry in Florida.”

House Speaker Paul Renner said that the fact that the Legislature is poised to pass a permitless – “constitutional” carry bill later this session is a win for Second Amendment supporters.

“This is important for everybody who believes in the Second Amendment to know that we are moving forwards on the Second Amendment,” he said at a news conference Tuesday. “We are reclaiming and advancing the rights of men and women to protect and defend themselves and those they love. And so the fact that it doesn’t include open carry could be the cherry on top for some, but in essence this is accomplishing what constitutional carry is which is you do not need a separate permission slip from the Department of Agriculture as long as you pass a background check and you meet the other requirements that we have to carry concealed.

Open carry advocates had their hopes raised last week when DeSantis told Valdes in Jacksonville Beach that he supported adding open carry to the permitless carry bill, though he added that he didn’t believe that the Legislature would send him such a bill.

One Second Amendment group that hasn’t criticized the permitless carry bill even though it doesn’t include open carry is the National Rifle Association, long considered one of the most influential lobby organizations in Tallahassee.

“We support the legislation, and do believe that it’s a huge step forward for those local gun owners in Florida,” says Art Thomm, the state director for the NRA in Florida. He says his organization does support open carry, but he adds that “there’s not a way that I can in good consciousness, oppose a piece of legislation like it is because it does not include those provisions.”

Valdes says that if nothing else, the negotiations between fellow Republicans “shows that the Legislature does have a lot of power.”

“I think that a lot of it comes down to the fact that the governor needs the Legislature to help him look strong and good for 2024, and the Legislature has basically said that we’re not going to move forward on pro-gun legislation unless the Florida Sheriffs Association signs off on it.”

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.