TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Concerns expressed by the Florida National Guard stalled a Senate proposal that would allow people without concealed-weapons licenses to carry concealed firearms when forced outside in times of emergency.
But Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican and sponsor of the bill (SB 296), said Wednesday he intends to revive the proposal after he has time to discuss it with the National Guard.
"Certainly there are some legitimate concerns that are still out there," Brandes said.
Brandes' proposal would create an exemption to a state concealed-carry law by allowing individuals who have not qualified for the licenses to carry weapons off their property when ordered to move due to a governor-declared state of emergency, such as a hurricane or wildfire.
Capt. Terrence Gorman, general counsel for the Florida Department of Military Affairs, said a balance is needed between personal safety and public safety, adding that a potentially "tricky" situation can be created when people who have not taken the required weapons training are carrying firearms during stress-filled periods.
"When people aren't thinking clearly … they probably shouldn't have a weapon shoved in the back of their pants," Gorman said, "especially when you're talking about thousands of people who need to be evacuated from an area."
Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, said the intent of the measure is to protect people who may not know the law when forced to flee their homes.
But Sen. Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican who served as Citrus County sheriff, said he would oppose the measure.
"I think this violates the threshold of the situation of an emergency as opposed to conflict of interest about whether you have a right to carry," Dean said. "I think the law enforcement has a duty and responsibility, and I don't see that as an abuse."
Dean was part of a 5-2 vote in favor of the bill when it appeared March 3 before the Criminal Justice Committee. The measure was on the agenda Wednesday of the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee before action was postponed.
However, Marion Hammer, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida, said law enforcement and the military won't always be there "when things are crazy" and people need to protect themselves and family members.
"It really bothers me to hear folks who generally we think about being in a position of needing to protect us, when we know they can't, but they would object to us having the ability to protect ourselves," Hammer said.
She added, "In the state of emergency, and with a hurricane coming and during an evacuation, if you leave your guns behind there is a good chance they won't be there when you get back; either destroyed in the hurricane or stolen by looters."
The House companion (HB 209) by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, has been backed by the Criminal Justice and Economic Development and Tourism subcommittees and awaits an appearance before the Judiciary Committee.
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