Florida has dodged a bullet in recent years when it comes to hurricanes, but that hasn’t stopped gun-loving conservatives from looking ahead to the next emergency. A Senate committee Thursday approved a measure giving evacuees the right to bear arms.
Temperatures and tempers soaring, some residents snapped after Hurricane Andrew leveled South Miami in August, 1992. Fights broke out in long lines for ice. There was looting.
Is that the right atmosphere to encourage survivors to haul out their guns?
Senator Bill Montford, a Democrat from Tallahassee, had his doubts Thursday when the Rules Committee debated a bill allowing people without permits to openly carry guns in a mandatory evacuation.
“What we don’t want, in my opinion, is to have people to carry their guns and have a vigilante group during an evacuation.”
Bill sponsor Jeff Brandes, a Saint Petersburg Republican, admits it was a big reason the bill lost traction in the Legislature last year. It came up more than once in Thursday’s Rules Committee hearing.
“Because that’s what he was asking. Did you eliminate that situation that would eliminate vigilantism?” asked Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa.
Brandes didn’t mince words.
“Uh, Mister chairman, thank you, this bill makes no guarantees.”
Brandes says he’s fixed the problem. The bill only applies to people leaving a disaster area.
But another change will likely put the bill over the top this year. Brandes limits the time allowed for open carry to 48 hours after the evacuation order is issued.
“They made this, uh, they made a good bill better. It says that, uh…”
That eases the Florida Sheriffs Association’s concerns. Now it likes the idea that law abiding citizens won’t leave their guns behind and easy prey for looters.
It’s a real concern, says National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer.
“There was a lot of looting following Hurricane Andrew. There were a lot of firearms lost to looters.”
The bill heads next to the Senate floor.
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