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A permitless carry bill clears its first hurdle in the Florida Senate

Sen. Jay Collins (R-Tampa) speaks on permitless concealed carry bill during the Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023.
Valerie Crowder
Sen. Jay Collins (R-Tampa) speaks on permitless concealed carry bill during the Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023.

A Republican measure to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit in Florida continues to move forward in the legislature, even though the bill has received broad public opposition, including from gun rights groups.

“We’re insulted by this bill,” Bob White, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida told members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday. “It’s a slap in the face to the Second Amendment community.”

Permitless carry bills in the House and Senate wouldn’t allow people to openly carry firearms. For gun rights advocates speaking out against the measure, that means they're not true “constitutional carry” proposals, as Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican leaders have promised.

"Anyone who knows anything about the Second Amendment knows that a true constitutional carry bill is going to include open carry," White said. "As far as we're concerned, the [House] speaker went back on his word, he reneged on a commitment he made, and we intend to hold him accountable for that."

White was among several gun rights advocates who spoke out against the bill at the Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting on Monday. Meanwhile, the measure has also received opposition from Democrats, gun safety advocates and university students who say they're concerned it would lead to more gun violence.

Democrats oppose permitless carry, primarily because it would eliminate the training requirement needed to get a concealed carry weapons permit. Under the measure, people would no longer need to complete a course on gun safety, shooting and the state’s self-defense laws to carry a concealed gun.

"This state regulates many dangerous activities," said Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton), citing driver's license tests as one example. "That is because we believe those laws will make people more responsible drivers, safer drivers. What are we doing to make people responsible gun owners?"

The Senate version of the permitless carry bill passed in the Criminal Justice Committee on Monday along party lines. Earlier this month, the House version of the bill — HB 543 — passed its first committee stop. It will get taken up by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

“This comes down to our constitutional rights,” said Tampa Republican state Sen. Jay Collins, who’s sponsoring the bill. “I believe we have the right to carry concealed without the government permission slip.”

Unlike the House bill, SB 150 includes school safety measures, such as expanding the school guardian program to allow private school staff to be armed, in addition to public and charter school guardians. It would also establish a program for firearms-sniffing dogs on school campuses. The bill also includes $1.5 million for a grants that local law enforcement agencies can use to offer free gun safety courses to the public.

Democrats in the committee supported those provisions and tried to get them into a separate bill, but Republicans blocked that effort.

"Wrapping up a more-guns bill in school safety is the most cynical political ploy you can imagine," Polsky said. "Don't make me vote against school safety for my constituents."

The Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association support the permitless carry bills.

Speaking in favor of the measure, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri described concealed carry permits as a "roadblock" that "serves no purpose."

"This concealed carry permit requirement serves nothing for Florida, and the reason it serves nothing for Florida is because it has no bearing on who goes and buys a gun," Gualtieri said. "You’re still going to get background checked. You’re still going to have to go through all the process. You’re still going to have a waiting period."

Gualtieri, however, is opposed to open carry. "We don’t need open carry in Florida, I don’t think that it serves a good purpose."
Copyright 2023 WFSU.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.
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