Florida bill to allow gun owners to carry without permit heads to Gov. DeSantis' desk
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Senate Thursday approved doing away with licensing requirements to carry a gun into most public places – but not into the Senate chamber where the bill was approved.
The bill, SB 150/HB 543 by Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, passed on a mostly party line vote of 27-13. One Republican Senator joined the Democrats to vote no.
Florida would be the 26th state in the U.S. to allow permitless carry, according to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association.
The proposal had cleared the Florida House a week earlier on a 77–32 vote, with one Republican voting no. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has promised to sign the proposal – although it does not include an open carry provision, which he has also endorsed.
The measure does away with background checks, training, and fees for a concealed weapons license. The Department of Agriculture has issued more than 2.6 million concealed weapon licenses.
Collins called the proposal "a robust public safety measure." But Democrats warned it would be a recipe for more gun-related deaths.
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DeSantis makes appearance at 'World's Largest Gun Store'
While lawmakers argued over SB 150/HB 543 in Tallahassee, DeSantis boosted his pro-gun reputation by greeting fans at a gun store outside Atlanta – in what many see as part of a build-up to a run for the Republican presidential nomination.
The store bills itself as the “World's Largest Gun Store,” and had been used as campaign stops in 2020 by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, and then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and GOP candidate Herschel Walker. Conservatives have protested a recent inspection of the shop by federal authorities.
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Florida's permitless carry bill loosens gun regulations in the wake of a mass shooting at a Tennessee elementary school March 28, the 128th incident in which a gun was used to either injure or kill four or more individuals – or one every 16.7 hours since January 1, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive.
Collins, however, stood his ground to invalidate licensing requirements, while opponents railed that gun violence is the No. 1 killer of children.
"There is a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. And that is what we're fighting for,” said Collins as he escorted the bill through committees and Thursday in debate.
He also argued the proposal is about public safety, highlighting a provision to spend $42 million to improve the physical security of schools, and another $18 million for other safety-related programs.
Democrat amendments squashed
Democrats and pro-regulation groups argued the measure lacks any awareness of the common good, and prioritizes political ambitions and corporate profits over people’s lives.
Democrats offered nine amendments that would have tightened regulations on firearm transactions, who is allowed to carry a gun, and the safe storage of weapons – including a tax exemption.
They all failed.
Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, challenged Collins and his supporters to amend the bill to allow citizens to carry guns into legislative meetings where he and other lawmakers make policy.
Collins spoke against the proposal. He explained Pizzo’s proposal was not relevant because the measure does not address “exclusion” or gun-free zones.
“It is incredibly hypocritical that you will objectively proliferate firearms in the state of Florida but not in the room where we sit," said Pizzo.
A former homicide prosecutor, Pizzo explained gun violence is so prevalent in Florida major cities that he guaranteed his colleagues a teenager would be gunned down that night in Tampa, Miami or Orlando.
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Pizzo said it was ironic that most Floridians have to worry about gun violence in their daily lives, but Pizzo and his colleagues are safe in the “Thunderdome of Freedom,” where law-abiding citizens are not allowed to carry guns into the Florida Senate chambers.
A vote against the amendment, said Pizzo, "means you don’t believe what you’re selling."
Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, then addressed the bill's supporters' assertion it affirms a God-given right to self-defense enshrined in the Constitution. Powell said he studied the Bible but could not find any references to guns.
He then told his colleagues as a Black man there was nothing he could do about the color of his skin and wondered in the midst of an epidemic of gun violence if an equal application of Second Amendment rights is possible.
"Is my skin weaponized?" said Powell. "Can I be a good guy with a gun?"
The measure now heads to DeSantis' desk.
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Florida gun rights advocates want more
While the Senate was gathering for Thursday's vote, Young Americans for Liberty warned DeSantis the bill is only halfway acceptable to the gun community.
The group and others have called for an open carry bill to allow gun owners to openly display firearms in public. Twice they have recorded DeSantis saying he would sign an open carry bill if lawmakers would send him one.
Ted Patterson, the group's vice president of policy, in a prepared statement said DeSantis needs to do more if he wants their support in the future.
“Governor Ron DeSantis can’t expect to be praised as a conservative hero if he’s going to retreat back to the establishment line every time a major vote has to be made. Floridians deserve the full constitutional carry that DeSantis promised last year, especially if he wants their support in the 2024 election," said Patterson.
Follow James Call on Twitter: @CallTallahasse
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida gun bill: Law to allow permitless carry heads to DeSantis