A training class on carrying concealed weapons. The FL Legislature has approved a bill that would not require training. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
Allowing people to carry a weapon without obtaining a license from the state is moving closer to passage in the Florida Senate, but a new survey shows 77 percent of those polled oppose what’s called a permitless or ‘constitutional’ carry measure.
That said, the measure is moving along quickly in the GOP-controlled Legislature. On Thursday, a Senate committee meeting on fiscal policy voted 13-6 on a party-line vote to approve the measure and the proposal now moves to the Senate floor for final passage.
The state House is moving on a similar version of the measure, and both bodies are poised to vote in their full chambers.
Currently individuals in Florida are required to obtain a concealed weapons license when they purchase a gun. They must complete a firearm safety and training course and pay a $97 licensing fee to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This legislation would eliminate that requirement.
The measure approved on Thursday came on the same day that a new survey from the University of North Florida polled 1,492 Floridians and showed that 77 percent were somewhat or strongly opposed about the constitutional/permitless carry proposal, including 62 percent of Republicans. In the GOP category, it was 17 percent somewhat opposed and 45 percent strongly opposed.
“Not only is there bipartisan opposition to this ‘constitutional carry’ bill, but folks seem to feel passionately about it with the majority (67 percent) saying they strongly oppose the bill,” said University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab faculty director Michael Binder in a statement accompanying the poll. “Even among Republicans, most people are against carrying weapons without a permit.”
Twenty-five states have passed permitless or “constitutional” carry laws around the country, according to U.S. Concealed Carry Association.
The Senate measure also includes a school safety package that includes expanding the school guardian program to allow private school staff to be armed. It requires that the Office of Safe Schools develop a statewide behavioral threat management operational process, a state-specific behavioral assessment “instrument” to evaluate the behavior of students who may pose a threat, and a threat management portal to digitize the threat assessment “instrument” for use by each school district and school, according to the legislative analysis.
“This is reckless, dangerous and only moves us away from the system of responsible gun ownership that is currently valued in Florida,” said Alisa Gonzalez, the president of Students Demand Action. “Law abiding citizens should not feel threatened by regulations if they are following the law,” she said Thursday at the Senate committee meeting.
But others said they supported the bill because they didn’t believe they needed a “permission slip” from the government to exercise their constitutional rights.
“My ability to being my own first responder should not rest on paying a fee to the state,” said Eve Haney, who spoke at the committee meeting.
Palm Beach County Democrat Lori Berman said that with gun violence a major problem in the country, lawmakers should be attempting to “raise the bar” on gun ownership but says the permitless carry bill will actually lower the bar. And she added that the criticism by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri that the current gun training to get a permit is relatively weak calls for the Legislature to step up to improve that training.
“We are the Legislature, so let’s make it so that people aren’t untrained and unvetted when they’re out there carrying guns,” she said, adding that she feared that with more guns out on the streets, there will be more violence.
Several Second Amendment supporters have maintained that the proposal isn’t “true constitutional carry” because it doesn’t allow for the open carrying of weapons, which is the law of the land in 47 other states. “Open carry” is the practice of carrying openly visible firearms in public.
They say that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent comments that he supports open carry but that it’s up to the bill sponsors to add it compelled one gun rights advocate to say that it’s the Legislature’s job to rubber stamp his wishes.
“As a presumptive 2024 presidential candidate, it is the job of these chambers to place his agenda at the forefront,” said Nicholas Lahera, who is from Gainesville.
That remark drew a sharp rebuke from Orange County Democrat Geraldine Thompson, who reminded the audience gathered to watch the meeting that there are three co-equal branches of government – the judicial, executive and legislative branches.
“We are the legislative branch, and we are not here to make sure that whatever agenda the governor has is passed,” she said. “We’re here to speak for our communities. To speak for our constituents. To speak for the people who elected us to be here to speak up for them when they can’t speak for themselves.”
Other Second Amendment advocates laid the blame on DeSantis. Matt Collins, a gun rights supporter, said that if open carry wasn’t added to the bill, it showed the “political impotence on the part of Governor DeSantis.”
“I like Governor DeSantis, but quite frankly, the inability to get open carry included in this bill is embarrassing for him,” Collins said. “It’s failed leadership and it’s weak. And finally, it begs the question that if the governor cannot get a very friendly Legislature to add open carry to this bill, then how do we think he’s going to do trying to convince Congress to act on anything if he becomes president?”
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