TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A measure backed by the National Rifle Association that would allow people to conceal a firearm without a license during an emergency now has the open support of Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida National Guard but is still on hold in the Senate.
St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes on Tuesday for the second time delayed a vote on his bill (296), now seemingly stalled in the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee.
"Clearly we're going to continue to work with law enforcement and the agencies involved to come up with a better product," Brandes said Tuesday after again postponing a vote on the measure.
The bill could still advance because the committee may hold up to two more meetings, Chairman Thad Altman, R-Melbourne said.
Scott and the National Guard this week came out in support of the plan after NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer took issue with objections to the bill expressed by the chief lawyer for the Florida Department of Military Affairs. The agency is overseen by Scott, who is seeking re-election this year.
Hammer said she questioned the governor's aides about comments made by Capt. Terrence Gorman, general counsel for the military agency, at a March 19 meeting.
"I'm not interested in bringing law enforcement on board. This is about law-abiding people being able to protect themselves in a time of emergency," Hammer told reporters after the vote was postponed on Tuesday. "It is not about the convenience of law enforcement."
Allowing people who have not had the required training to carry firearms during stress-filled times like evacuations can create a potentially "tricky" situation, Gorman told the panel during a March 19 meeting.
"When people aren't thinking clearly … they probably shouldn't have a weapon shoved in the back of their pants," Gorman said last week.
After Gorman's testimony, Sen. Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican and former Citrus County sheriff, said he would no longer support the measure.
But in the wake of Hammer's visit and at the request of Scott's staff, the head of the Florida National Guard, Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw, sent Altman a letter saying the Guard backs the bill.
"Capt. Terrence Gorman is not authorized to speak for the Department of Military Affairs on legislative issues," Titshaw wrote on March 20. "Department of Military Affairs supports Senate Bill 296."
Titshaw said Tuesday that Gorman was only providing information last week.
"As the questioning proceeded, the perception could have been that he was in opposition of the bill," Titshaw added.
Scott's office confirmed that Titshaw was asked to write the letter and that the governor supports the bill.
"Our office took action to correct an inaccurate representation of this administration's policy during a Senate committee meeting," Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in an email on Tuesday.
Brandes' bill is slated for another committee stop before reaching the Senate floor for a full vote.
The House companion (HB 209) by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, is scheduled for a vote by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, the bill's final stop before it reaches the floor.
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