By Ryan Dailey, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A proposal that would allow Floridians to carry concealed firearms without licenses began moving through the state House on Tuesday, as a debate emerged about whether the bill lives up to the “constitutional carry” label given by supporters.
The House Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law, & Government Operations Subcommittee voted 10-5 along party lines to approve the measure, after an at-times tense three-hour meeting.
The bill (HB 543) would eliminate a concealed-weapons licensing process that includes people undergoing criminal background checks and completing firearms-training courses. Under the proposal, people with concealed firearms would need to carry valid identification and “must display such identification upon demand by a law enforcement officer.”
The majority of more than 100 people who testified or signed up to testify about the measure Tuesday opposed the bill — with numerous gun-rights supporters criticizing it for not going far enough. They urged lawmakers to allow what’s known as open carry, meaning firearms would not have to be concealed. Many said the bill’s “constitutional carry” moniker was a misnomer.
Chris Rose II of Gainesville described the measure as watered down and expressed frustration at what he characterized as a promise that was not delivered.
“This bill is not constitutional carry. This bill is not close to constitutional carry. This bill is not what the other half of the country has, and I am fed up with being a second-class citizen to those folks,” Rose told the panel.
Democratic lawmakers heavily criticized the bill as it would eliminate the firearms-training requirement. Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, proposed adding various training requirements to the measure, but the Republican-dominated panel rejected all amendments sought by Democrats.
“It makes no sense that people have to pass an exam to drive a vehicle but not to own a gun,” Joseph said.
But Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of the Florida Sheriffs Association, said current training requirements tied to the licensing process are “meaningless.”
“The training that people get today is really meaningless training. It’s this online course for about 30 minutes, and that’s what you get,” Gualtieri said.
Gualtieri said the bill would not change current prohibitions on where people can carry concealed weapons, such as at schools and polling places, and said the bill “protects people’s right to protect themselves.”
Several groups that support gun-control measures warned the bill would make Florida less safe.
“The licensing process that this bill is trying to take away is a vital part of making sure that guns are kept out of the hands of folks that would misuse them,” said Alyssa Akbar of the organization March for Our Lives, which was formed after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
But Bill sponsor Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny, described the proposal as simply removing the requirement that gun owners seek the government’s permission to carry firearms.
“If you’ve ever gotten a concealed-weapons permit, it certainly is not extensive training. So I think the differences are going to be negligible after this bill,” Brannan said.
The bill, filed for the legislative session that will start March 7, appears to be on a fast track in the House. It now needs approval only from the Judiciary Committee before it can go to the House floor. The Senate does not have a similar bill.