A controversial gun bill filed by St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes has advanced in the Senate. Senate Bill 290 would allow people who don’t have concealed carry permits in Florida to carry firearms on their person during a mandatory evacuation.
A similar bill died in the Senate last year. Brandes made some changes to his current bill in response to concerns, including those from sheriffs and police chiefs, that the bill didn’t specify where or for how long people could carry weapons under relaxed laws.
Brandes’ bill now limits the ability of non-permit holders to carry concealed weapons legally to 48 hours and it is only intended for people who are leaving a disaster scene.
That’s meant to address concerns that the bill would create a vigilante-type situation where individuals grouped together with firearms during declared emergencies.
While the bill advances to third reading on the full Senate floor, it isn’t without continued concern from Democrats.
“I envision a hurricane where there are down power lines, there’s no telephone service. People are concerned about water safety and at the same time you have people on the street with guns,” said Orange County Democrat Geri Thompson.
During Hurricane Andrew in South Florida fights broke out over people who were trying to get ice. The argument became: imagine that with guns.
The bill narrowly addresses people in the process of evacuating and allows them to have a firearm on their body or in their car. It’s meant to provide uniformity for law enforcement during times of emergency.
According to Brandes, current laws are very technical in nature and while someone without a concealed carry permit could legally transport a firearm from their home during an evacuation, that person would not likely know the ins and outs of current law. This bill would protect those individuals Brandes refers to as “law- abiding citizens who are just trying to flee for their life.”
It does not apply to individuals returning to their homes, however. So while someone without a permit could put a handgun in their waste band legally while evacuating, they would be non-compliant under the law when returning to their home.
Other potential issues include what gun owners would do with their weapons if they evacuated to a school that doesn’t allow guns on campus. Brandes said this bill would not supercede that law.
However, if another gun measure floating through both chambers in Tallahassee is approved, guns would be permitted on public college campuses.
There were also questions surrounding how law enforcement officers would identify who is a lawful gun owner and who wasn’t.
“What do they have to show to the officer to establish that they are in compliance?” Thompson asked.
“I don’t think that you would have to establish anything,” Brandes answered.
Brandes’ response to many of the concerns raised by Democrats included offers to add later amendments to the bill or file new legislation to address problems he sees as independent of his bill.
Despite opposition from the Democratic minority in the Senate, the bill is likely to pass this year. Both the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association have come out in support.
And NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer sent out a plea to members Tuesday asking them to email Florida senators showing support for Brandes’ bill.
“When you’re ordered under a mandatory evacuation to take your family, pets and important documents and leave your home and other belongings behind, you should not be deprived of the ability to protect yourself and your family,” Hammer wrote. “You should not be denied the right to take your firearms with you rather than leave them behind for looters. This bill is especially important for law-abiding people in a state that is prone to evacuations due to hurricanes. This bill is about your safety and the safety of your family.”
Democrat Joe Abruzzo also supported the bill in committee based on changes to this year’s legislation. His change in stance is a huge loss for bill opponents.
A similar bill sponsored by Heather Fitzenhage will be heard in the House. It passed a committee earlier this session with broad support. It now heads to the floor for a full House vote.