By BRENDAN FARRINGTON
TALLAHASSEE — Floridians will be able to carry concealed guns without a permit under a bill the Legislature sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday. Key Biscayne’s representatives split on the measure, which DeSantis says he will sign.
The Senate passed the bill on a 27-13 vote. It will allow anyone who can legally own a gun in Florida to carry one without a permit. It means training and a background check will not be needed for people to carry concealed guns in public.
Key Biscayne’s two representatives, both Republicans, split on the measure. In the Senate, freshman Alexis Calatayud voted in favor. But in the House, Vicki Lopez was the only Republican to break ranks with her party, joining 31 Democrats in voting no. The measure passed the House 76-32.
Law enforcement leaders took differing stances. The Florida Sheriffs Association supported the bill, but some police chiefs, including Key Biscayne’s Frank Sousa, opposed the measure. Police groups pushed for language that would prohibit gun owners from displaying a firearm in “an angry or threatening manner.”
Supporters cast the legislation, known as HB 543, in Constitutional terms, even though the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the state’s existing concealed carry law does not infringe on the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, leaving the ruling intact.
“You don’t need a permission slip from the government to be able to exercise your Second Amendment rights,” DeSantis said to cheers at the Smyrna, Georgia, gun store that is often a location for GOP campaign events. “And as of right now there’s 25 states, so half the states, that allow that. Well in Florida, next week, we’re going to make it 26.”
The arguments over the legislation were divided on political lines, with Republicans saying law-abiding citizens have a right to carry guns and protect themselves and Democrats saying a state that has seen horrific mass shootings such as the Parkland high school and Pulse nightclub massacres will become even more dangerous.
“The second amendment of the Constitution gives its people the right to keep and bear arms. It doesn’t say if you have a permit; it doesn’t say if you’ve gone through training; it doesn’t say if you’ve done a background check,” Republican Sen. Jim Boyd said. “Bad guys are going to get guns one way or the other, and evil people are going to do bad things with guns.”
Republicans argued that most people will still want to get a permit because it will allow them to carry concealed weapons in states with reciprocal agreements and to be able to purchase guns without a waiting period.
But Democrats said not everybody is going to be so responsible.
“I am, in fact, not worried about mass shootings through passage of this bill. I’m worried about mass idiots,” Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo said. “People are going to die because of carelessness.”
Nearly 3 million Floridians have a concealed weapons permit. While a background check and three-day waiting period will still be required to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer, they are not required for private transactions or exchanges of weapons.
DeSantis has said he thinks Florida should go even further and allow people to openly carry guns. While some lawmakers have pushed for open carry, it doesn’t appear the Legislature will pass such legislation.
The issue was debated five years after then Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill creating gun restrictions after 17 students and faculty were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Under DeSantis, momentum has swung back toward expanding gun rights rather than placing limits on them.
The KBI’s Tony Winton contributed to this report.