The National Rifle Association will seek to pass a bill legalizing the open carrying of firearms in Florida during the 2013 session of the state Legislature, renewing a crusade for expanded gun rights that faltered last year, according to a longtime lobbyist for the group.
The envisioned legislation would make it legal for holders of concealed-weapons permits to carry exposed guns in public.
The lobbyist said the bill is necessary to protect such gun owners from harassment by police when they accidentally reveal concealed weapons in public.
A 2011 compromise that tweaked existing regulations to remove penalties for those who unintentionally expose a gun has not been sufficient protection, she said. As a result, the NRA has reverted to its original goal of open carry for concealed-weapons permit holders.
Eric Friday is a Jacksonville lawyer who's also Florida Carry's lead attorney.
"This is Florida, people aren't always wearing clothes. It's hard to conceal a firearm. You have to wear a suit coat or a jacket to conceal a firearm in the summer," Friday said.
The announcement comes at a time when the subject of firearm restrictions is even more emotionally freighted than usual. In the past three weeks, troubled gunmen have carried out two of the worst shooting massacres in recent U.S. history, leaving a total of 18 people dead and 61 wounded at a movie theater in a Denver suburb and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
"I think it re-emphasizes our position. Our position is guns save more lives than take lives. Our position is it's better to have a gun in the hands of a law abiding carrier than in the hands of a criminal," Friday said.
The 2013 bill is sure to attract national attention from both supporters and opponents of firearm regulations. Expanding open carry in states that don't allow it has become a cherished cause of gun-rights activists in recent years.
Dozens of states allow their residents to openly carry firearms, though many have restrictions on where it can be done or require licenses. Despite its generally permissive gun laws, Florida has not allowed its residents to sport pistols on their hips in plain sight since 1987, when the Legislature outlawed the practice. There's an exception for gun owners engaged in or traveling directly to or from hunting, fishing and camping trips.
A 2011 NRA-backed bill that would have legalized open carry for concealed-weapon license holders in Florida passed through committees in the state House and Senate. But it was severely curtailed after law enforcement officials. In the end, state gun laws were changed so that concealed-weapons permit holders would not be penalized if they "briefly" expose their guns accidentally.
Donald Foy is President of the organization Mad Dads. It's a group that actively works to stop gun violence. He doesn't support the legislation.
"I don't think an individual needs to be walking around like it's western days. I believe the individual has a right to protect his home the way it is now," Foy said.