Florida House backs concealed weapons change

13 May 2022, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rottweil: A Walther PDP Full Size 9mm handgun and 9mm Luger cartridges lie on a table of a sports shooter. Photo: Silas Stein/ (Photo by Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Continuing to quickly pass high-profile legislation, the House on Friday approved a measure that would allow Floridians to carry firearms without concealed-weapons licenses, which Republicans compared to a government "permission slip."

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, touted the bill’s approval by telling reporters that Florida would be the 26th state to pass what he and other supporters call "constitutional carry," a nod to Second Amendment rights.

As the third week of the 60-day legislative session ended, the Republican-controlled House voted 76-32 to approve the bill (HB 543), with Democrats warning the measure would make Floridians less safe. A Senate version (SB 150) has cleared committees and is ready to be considered by the full Senate.

The bills would end a decades-old requirement that people obtain state concealed-weapons licenses before they can carry guns. The process includes background checks and firearms training.

While the licensing requirement would be scrapped, people would be required to have valid identification while carrying concealed weapons and "must display such identification upon demand by a law enforcement officer." People would face $25 fines for violations — a provision that drew criticism from House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.

"A $25 ticket is less than a parking-meter ticket in Tampa. This is the most soft-on-crime bill that I’ve ever seen in my time in Tallahassee. We should not throw away public safety to pass an unpopular political agenda," Driskell said

Much of the Democrats’ criticism of the bill centered on nixing the requirements for people to undergo background screening and receive firearms training. Many Democrats on Friday drew from their backgrounds in arguing against the bill.

"As a teacher, I saw the ways in which gun violence negatively impacted the young people in Florida, mentally and physically," Rep. Johanna Lopez, D-Orlando, said. "And now we’re here expecting our youth to grow up in a state where people are concealed-carrying firearms without any sort of training."

But Republican supporters pushed back on the criticism. Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Riverview, said gun owners could still seek out training without a requirement.

"To address some of my colleagues’ concerns about training, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t get trained. What we’re saying is that you shouldn’t be at the mercy of the government to issue you a permit," Beltran said. "I’m all about training, everyone should be trained so that they don’t cause accidents with a gun, so that they know how to use their gun. And people can still do that on their own."

Rep. John Snyder, R-Stuart, and other supporters said the Second Amendment does not call for getting permission from the government to carry a gun.

"When the founding fathers penned the Second Amendment, there is a reason that they did not include a permission slip from the government in that," Snyder said.

The measure also includes various changes related to school safety, including providing money for school hardening and a provision that would allow private schools to participate in a controversial program that allows armed "guardians" on campuses.

But the controversy surrounding the bill centered on the concealed-weapons changes, with some gun-rights supporters saying the measure didn’t go far enough and didn’t live up to the "constitutional carry" label. They argued the state should allow "open carry," meaning firearms would not have to be concealed.

Some Republicans on Friday voiced support for future open-carry legislation.

"I want to speak to my friends on my side of the aisle as well, because if you’re like me, maybe you have been visited by some of the groups that are suggesting that you should vote this thing down because it doesn’t have everything we want. And listen, I’ll be the first to admit it, I don’t think it goes far enough. I’d like to have it include a lot more," Rep. Chase Tramont, R-Port Orange, said.

Renner also said he would support allowing people to openly carry guns but said the bill would move the state forward.

"I support open carry. I’ve been candid with people that have asked me," Renner told reporters. "But I’m also candid to say that I’m one of 160 people in the Legislature, and because of that, you know, you look at — do you want to make perfect the enemy of the good?"

Democrats said they were bracing for potential impacts of the bill.

"Black Americans are 14 times more likely to be shot than white Americans. So our communities will feel the horrific impact of this bill 10-fold," Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, D-Ocoee, said.

The House vote on the gun-related bill came at the end of a week when lawmakers gave final approval to high-profile bills to expand school vouchers, limit lawsuits against businesses and insurance companies and bolster affordable housing.