Florida bill to carry concealed guns without permit heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis

The Florida Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would allow people to carry guns without concealed-weapons licenses, sending the issue to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 27-13 almost almost straight party lines to pass the measure (HB 543), with Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, joining Democrats in opposition. The House approved the bill last week, and DeSantis has pledged to sign it.

In nixing a decades-old licensing requirement, the bill would allow people to carry concealed weapons without having to meet requirements such as firearms training and background screening. People carrying weapons would be required to have valid identification and be able to "display such identification upon demand by a law enforcement officer."

Many supporters labeled the measure "constitutional carry," in reference to Second Amendment constitutional rights. Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, cited the Constitution during debate Thursday.

"The Second Amendment of the Constitution gives its people the right to keep and bear arms. It doesn’t say, ‘if you have a permit,’ it doesn’t say ‘if you’ve gone through training,’ it doesn’t say ‘if you’ve done a background check,’" Boyd said.

But some gun-rights advocates have disputed the constitutional carry label. They have argued the measure should have sought to allow what’s known as open carry — which would not require firearms to be concealed.

"This bill is a half-measure and is not what gun owners were promised. It isn't true constitutional carry because it doesn't include an open carry provision. This bill is weak and failed leadership on part of Gov. DeSantis and the Republican legislative leadership. Gun owners deserve better," Matt Collins, a former gun lobbyist who lives in Central Florida, said in a statement.

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But the measure received support from numerous law-enforcement officials and the National Rifle Association, which called its passage a "historic" win.

"(The bill) is backed by Florida sheriffs, I believe 60 out of 67, it is backed by the police chiefs, the PBA (Police Benevolent Association), the prosecuting attorneys, and our AG (attorney general)," bill sponsor Jay Collins, R-Tampa, said. "Those are people I know, I respect, and I trust. Their reputations are beyond reproach, and they stand with this very good bill."

Meanwhile, Democrats and gun-control supporters decried scrapping firearms-training requirements, arguing that would make Floridians less safe.

Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, drew on his experience as a former police officer in pushing against the removal of the training requirements.

"As a former law-enforcement (officer) for 20 years in New York City, I had the privilege of carrying a weapon on me, a gun," Torres said. "But I was trained, over and over and over and over and over. Why? The safety of the public."

But Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, and other supporters argued eliminating the licensing requirement would not affect criminal acts.

"The fact that you are not going to have to have a permit, I have yet to find someone who is looking to do something devious … who has taken the time to think, ‘I better go get my permit, wait my three days, and I’ll go pick my weapon up and I’ll go cause some kind of harm to somebody,’" Hooper said.

Some Democrats criticized the measure as running counter to "progress" that lawmakers made on gun policies after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Thursday’s vote also came just days after a school shooting in Tennessee in which three children and three adults were killed.

"There’s no way that your constituents want this. There may be some who are shouting from the rooftops, but the polling is extensively clear — even gun owners want more gun safety, not less. Why we are going in the opposite direction from the progress we made after the tragedy of Parkland is beyond me," Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said.

But Democrats expressed support for parts of the bill designed to bolster school-safety measures. For example, the measure would provide money for school hardening and includes a provision that would allow private schools to participate in a controversial program that allows armed "guardians" on campuses.

Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, pointed to a part of the bill that would double the amount of training in active-shooter or assailant scenarios for people seeking to become school guardians.

"This could not be a more timely policy, for practices that have been successful in some under-resourced districts in our communities to have access to trained, and better-trained individuals, with your policy doubling the amount of active-shooter training," Calatayud said.

The Republican-dominated Senate on Wednesday rejected eight proposed changes to the bill put forward by Democrats. One of the proposed changes, for example, would have allowed people to carry concealed firearms into legislative meetings.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, said rejecting the proposed change would be "hypocritical."

"When this bill passes, and it will, there will be additional guns in Publix, where my wife and kids are. And yet there won’t be one here (in the Legislature). And that’s hypocrisy, or irony — or both. And so, if we’re really sitting here and talking about protecting yourself, and law-abiding citizens, it’s incredibly hypocritical not to vote for this amendment," Pizzo said.

As the measure moved a step closer to becoming law, Collins echoed many supporters in saying that it is designed to prevent Floridians from having to get a "permission slip" to carry guns.

"What this bill does is remove the need for that government permit, that permission slip, to carry a concealed weapon," Collins said.