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Florida Senate passes concealed carry bill during emergencies

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Last year, a proposal in Tallahassee that would allow people to carry a concealed weapon without a license while evacuating an emergency was met with resistance from law enforcement, and didn’t come to pass.

But after bill sponsor Jeff Brandes made some tweaks this year, the Florida Sheriffs Association endorsed it, and that seemed to be the difference at it cleared the Senate this morning on a 29-10 vote.

The biggest change that Brandes made was limiting the time that people can carry their concealed weapon without a license to 48 hours after the first evacuation announcement was made.

“Last year I had some serious reservations about it,” admitted Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford. But he said that with law enforcement’s supporting the bill, he could get behind it. “The sad state of affairs is that when we are in the middle of an emergency, there’s nothing good going on, quite frankly. And if somebody is going to have a gun, I’d rather it be the lawful owner of that gun, rather that someone who looted it from someone’s house.”

Palm Beach Democrat Joseph Abruzzo also said he liked the bill.

But many other Senate Democrats said no way.

“I need to know why we need to change the law?,” asked Delray Beach Senator Maria Sachs. “I ask for evidence….what evidence do we have?”

“I support the Second Amendment, but this bill is not needed,” added Hollywood Democrat Eleanor Sobel.

Miami Democrat Gwen Margolis said that having guns in a hurricane shelter would dissuade some citizens from entering those facilities. “This is not a good place to have guns,” she warned.

Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson discounted the argument previously made by Brandes that a law was needed for a “Katrina-like situation.”

“Katrina is really a reason why we wouldn’t want to do that,” Gibson countered, asking during a period of high stress would the Legislature want to increase the number of guns in places like shelters for those fleeing out a storm.

Cutler Bay Senator Dwight Bullard said the fact was that while people could get on the roads with their gun, in many cases they wouldn’t be allowed inside a shelter. “Where do you then leave your lawful weapon?”

In response, Brandes downplayed the significance of his legislation. “This is about this incredibly rare instance where people are fleeing for their lives. And yet Florida statute says today that if they bring their weapon with them and they’re carrying it in a certain manner, they can be charged with third-degree felony. And all we’re doing is giving them a 48-hour exemption to leave.”

And he said that he shared the concerns expressed by some Democrats about bringing guns into hurricane shelters.

Just not in his bill.

“I think this Legislature should take that up and address it….there should be absolute clarity about what happens when you get to a shelter.”

A companion bill (HB 493) by Fort Myers Republican Heather Fitzenhagen is expected to be heard in the House in the coming weeks.

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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