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Bill to allow people to carry concealed weapons during emergencies going to governor

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Legislation that would allow Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit during certain emergency situations passed in the Florida House today, and will soon go to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk for him to sign.

Sponsored by Fort Myers Republican Heather Fitzenhagan, HB 290 is similar but with some tweaks from the bill sponsored last year by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, which faced opposition from the Florida Sheriffs Association and moderate Republicans like Jack Latvala.

But this year both Latvala and the FSA were on board, with the only opposition  coming from House Democrats. Which means the bill passed with relative ease.

Currently under Florida law, only people with concealed weapon permits are allowed to carry their guns in public in the event of a mandatory evacuation.

Democrats fretted that allowing unlicensed gun owners to carry during an emergency would be a recipe for disaster.

Opa-Locka Democrat Cynthia Stafford said that when she thinks about evacuations, “Chaos, stress and anxiety are what comes to mind. And now you want to introduce guns to the equation? That not only concerns me, but it frightens me.”

Tampa Democrat Ed Narain warned of unintended consequences if the bill passed, referring specifically to 2005’s Stand Your Ground law.

Narain said that he could see a scenario where an African-American husband or father could see a motorist who needed attention on the road. But he feared that passenger could then see said African American coming toward him in a “threatening way” and be able to justify.

“So while for some that might seem like a very far-fetched scenario, this could happen, ” he said. “In emergency situations our emotions are enhanced by the littlest of things.”

But Miami Republican Frank Artiles would have none of that, saying flatly of the Democrats’ worries that “every argument you have made is ridiculous.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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