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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Permitless carry is likely to pass in Florida, despite broad pushback

Students Demand Action Rally Rep. Fentrice Driskell.jpg
Valerie Crowder
Democratic House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell of Tampa speaks alongside students at a rally in front of the Old State Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.

A permitless carry bill in Florida is getting pushback from people on opposite sides of the gun debate, while Republicans and law enforcement groups are backing the measure.

“In the middle are those supporting the bill," said Rep. William Cloud "Will" Robinson Jr. (R-Bradenton) during a House Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday before voting in favor of the bill. "Then there are those who want to go further with this bill, and those who don’t want this bill."

Despite opposition from gun rights advocates and proponents of stricter gun laws, the measure is headed to the House floor, with one more committee stop before it gets taken up in the full Senate. It has passed along party lines in all three committees that have taken up the proposal. Both chambers are expected to vote on it during the regular session, which begins on March 7.

"This is the most pro-Second Amendment bill I've seen in my four years," Robinson said.

The measure would allow people to carry a concealed weapon without taking the necessary steps to get a permit, which includes completing a gun safety course, providing fingerprints, undergoing an additional background check and paying a permitting fee.

It has received widespread support among Republicans, with state legislative leaders and Gov. Ron DeSantis promising that it will become law this year.

Democrats, gun safety advocates and university students, however, have vocally opposed the measure, arguing that it would lead to more gun violence.

And gun rights advocates have criticized the bill for not allowing people to openly carry firearms, in addition to lifting the permitting requirements for concealed carry.

Democrats, gun safety advocates worry the measure would lead to more gun violence

More than a couple dozen college students and gun safety advocates gathered alongside Democratic lawmakers on the steps of the Old Florida State Capitol on Tuesday to speak out against permitless carry.

“Are we going to let them make this the 'Gunshine State'?" shouted Rep. Dan Daley (D-coral springs). "No," dozens of students replied in unison. "Are we going to give up on our quest to end gun violence?" Daley shouted back. "No."

Student Protests Old State Capitol.jpg
Valerie Crowder
Florida State University student Alexis Dorman leads students and lawmakers in a moment of silence for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018 and those killed in a recent mass shooting at Michigan State University during a press conference to speak out against permitless carry on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.

At Florida State University, the Student Government Association issued a resolution formally opposing the permitless carry bill soon after it was announced.

Several SGA members were at the rally and expressed concern that students would feel less safe on campus if permitless carry becomes law. “I’m speaking on behalf of the majority of students at Florida State University that say: ‘We do not feel comfortable with this bill’s passage,’” said Eric Rivers, an FSU student who's also a member of SGA.

Democrats have expressed concern that making it easier to carry a gun makes all communities less safe.

“This will put more and more guns into our communities and that will lead to more shootings," said House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa). "That has been proven by other states that have passed similar legislation.”

Recent peer-reviewed studies show a link between increased gun violence and looser carry laws. One study published in the American Journal of Public Health found an increase in gun homicide rates in states where it was easier to get a carry permit over roughly 25-year period.

Another study published in the New York Academy of Medicine last year shows the rate of officer involved shootings increased by an estimated 13% in states that have adopted permitless carry.

The bill is vague about how police should respond if they encounter someone with a gun, Driskell noted. “In a stand-your-ground state with a long history of interactions between law enforcement and minority communities, this opens up the door to bias and potentially abuse.”

Gun rights advocates are also speaking out against permitless carry

House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) unveiled the permitless carry bill at a press conference in late January. A placard on the front of the podium displayed the words 'constitutional carry' across the front. But some gun rights advocates say that's not an accurate description of the bill.

House Speaker Paul Renner Constitutional Carry.jpg
Valerie Crowder
Florida House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) speaks at a press conference where he unveiled a bill to allow people to carry a concealed firearm without a permit in Florida, describing it as "constitutional carry," on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.

“We have been opposed to the bill from the very beginning from the moment the press conference was held with the big placard that said 'constitutional carry' across the front of it – it’s a lie," Bob White, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, told members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday.

“To call this bill constitutional carry is an insult to our intelligence," White said. "It does not provide for open carry. It does not eliminate the prohibition against carrying on a college or university campus, leaving tens of thousands of students in danger of being assaulted.”

White later explained to WFSU News that he’d support the bill if lawmakers would just add an open carry provision, even though his group would also like to see the state's "red flag" laws abolished, the age limit to buy a gun lowered from 21 to 18 and "gun free" zones eliminated.

Legislative staffers confirmed to WFSU News after the meeting that the reason open carry wasn’t included in the bill was because it didn’t have the support of law enforcement.

Views from law enforcement are mixed

Permitless carry has the support of the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

"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, you’re still going to get background checked," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, legislative chair of the statewide Sheriffs Association. "You’re still going to have a waiting period."

Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil, however, has a different take.

“We’ve had a couple of shootings in our town, road rage. I suspect we may see more of that occur," McNeil said while taking questions at a recent Capital Tiger Bay Club meeting in Tallahassee.

In an interview with WFSU News, McNeil elaborated on his position against the bill, explaining that he isn't sure how its going to affect the way his officers respond to calls. But he expects it to put officers in "a more precarious position."

That's because someone who has a concealed carry permit has undergone extra background checks, provided fingerprints and completed a training course. "That gave the law enforcement community opportunities to find out more about the person."

McNeil says he supports people's constitutional rights to carry a firearm, but he believes people should have to undergo gun safety training and get a permit. He's perfectly fine with getting rid of the roughly $100 concealed carry permit fee. "My belief is that to achieve the outcome that’s being sought, we should not have to pay for the right to carry or bear arms."

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.
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