FL House poised to vote on ‘permitless’ carry bill; Dems, gun safety advocates raise concerns

In the House chamber, a lawmaker told colleagues that ‘I almost made a choice to take my life by gun’

By: - March 24, 2023 7:00 am

North Florida Republican Chuck Brannan on the House floor talking about his permitless bill on March 23, 2023 (photo credit: Mitch Perry)

The Florida House is hours away from approving gun legislation to allow individuals who carry concealed weapons to forego a license or training course.

Democrats and gun safety advocates say the proposal will make the state less safe — right now, people must get a permit through the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Currently, 25 states in the country ban what’s called “permitless carry,” or “constitutional carry,” as its Second Amendment supporters call it.

“This bill continues to advance Second Amendment freedoms,” said North Florida Republican Chuck Brannan, the bill sponsor, speaking on the House floor on Thursday. “I believe Floridians have the right to bear arms to protect themselves, their families and their property without government interference. This bill is a big step to help the average law-abiding citizen to keep them from having to go through the hoops of getting a permit from the government to carry your weapon.”

House Democrats filed more than a dozen amendments to make it more palatable, but most were rejected by the GOP-controlled House.

One proposal that was approved in the House came from Broward County Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, a Democrat. Her amendment adds the names of Chris Hixon and Scott Beigel to the Aaron Feis Guardian Program. That’s the name of the state policy that allows for the arming of school personnel — a provision of the gun safety bill that was passed by the Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott in the immediate aftermath of the mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

All three men were coaches and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and were killed while attempting to protect the students who were being shot during that tragedy. Beigel was a geography teacher and cross-country coach, Feis was an assistant football coach, and Hixon was the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach.

Among the amendments rejected by the GOP included one from Orlando Democrat Anna Eskamani, which would have repealed the prohibition of carrying weapons into meetings of the Legislature – a proposal dubbed by St. Petersburg Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby as the “good for the goose, good for the gander” amendment.

The Republicans rejected it, which infuriated gun rights activist Luis Valdes, the state director of Gun Owners of America.

“I find Eskamani’s amendment to be a tremendous political tool because it showed the hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers towards the Second Amendment rights of Floridians,” Valdes told the Phoenix. “Her amendment would have simply repealed the ban on carrying in any committee chamber during a meeting, which other states allow. And her amendment would have repealed that ban, and Republicans shot it down.”

Another amendment from Eskamani would allow a person to file a voluntary wavier of firearm rights with the clerk of the court in any county if that person was having suicidal thoughts.

Rayner-Goolsby spoke in support of that proposal, calling it a “life-saving amendment.”

She then stunned the chamber by saying that she had checked herself into a facility in 2021 after attempting suicide.

“Members, I’m actually about to get very vulnerable about this. In 2021 as I served in this chamber I actually had a suicide attempt by gun. I no longer have access to that gun. My wife has access to that gun. I had to check myself into a mental health facility. I no longer handle guns because of that while I serve in this chamber.

“I say that to remove the stigma from it, because there could be anybody that we know are friends, are family, high functioning people. People who are successful in life. ‘Who seem to have it all.’

“And I almost took my life by a gun, and I’m so glad I didn’t. I’m glad I’m here.

“However, this is a life-saving amendment. And I understand that people want to have the right to have guns and I get it and you may have a policy and philosophical disagreement about that. But at the end of the day I don’t see the harm in this … amendment if it could save somebody’s life like mine.

“If it could save a child’s life. If it could save a mom or a dad and if people are aware that they could put themselves on this list. If they have the knowledge. If it can save just one life it’s worth it.

“And so I would ask you to put aside whatever partisan stuff we may have because at the end of the day there’s a member of this chamber that this amendment touches. There’s a member of this chamber that almost wasn’t here because I almost made a choice to take my life by gun in 2021. And so I would ask the members for that reason to vote up this amendment.”

That amendment was voted down.

Missing from the list of amendments filed earlier this week was a controversial proposal by Hillsborough County Republican Mike Beltran, which would allow for the open carrying of firearms in Florida – a move that gun rights advocates had been aggressively pushing GOP legislative leaders to back.

Beltran filed the amendment on Tuesday, but withdrew it less than a day later, telling the Phoenix that while he believed it was good policy, “this wasn’t the right vehicle or the right time.”

The gun legislation will go before the full House for a final vote on Friday, where it is expected to pass mostly along party lines. When both the House and the Senate approve the bill, it will go to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. The governor has already said that he would sign the bill.

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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.