House backs gun bills, but 'trouble' ahead in Senate
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After more than three hours of debate --- with most Republicans in favor and nearly all Democrats opposed --- the House approved a pair of controversial gun-related measures Wednesday that may never reach the Senate floor.
The House spent more than 80 minutes arguing the merits of a proposal (HB 4001) that would allow the more than 1.4 million Floridians with concealed-weapons licenses to pack heat while on state college and university campuses.
The measure passed 80-37 with Tallahassee Democrat Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who co-sponsored the bill, joining all but two Republicans --- Reps. Ray Pilon of Sarasota and Bill Hager of Delray Beach --- in support. Two Democrats who were initially recorded as supporting the bill later changed their votes to oppose it.
Another 100 minutes was spent on a separate proposal (HB 163) that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly display their sidearms in public, something banned in Florida since the concealed-weapons law was established in 1987
"We have no constitutional basis to infringe upon the rights of a Floridian to openly carry," said Rep Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach who sponsored the open-carry measure, which was approved 80-38. "We are for more rights for everyone. We are for more freedom for everyone. We are for more liberty for everyone."
The proposal would require people who openly carry to maintain the guns in holsters, cases or bags. The bill would also acknowledge that private employers can display written notices stating that possession of firearms on their property is prohibited.
Rehwinkel Vasilinda again joined the GOP majority in support of the bill. Republicans Keith Perry of Gainesville and Chris Latvala of Clearwater voted against open-carry.
Opponent Ed Narain, a Tampa Democrat who recalled at age 12 having a gun put in his face while being robbed of bus money, said lawmakers shouldn't let fear drive decision-making.
"We don't need to resolve every dispute we have with a bullet, we're better than that," Narain said. "We can defend our communities without giving a gun to every Rambo or John Wayne to openly carry in public."
An amendment added Tuesday to the open-carry bill also would let lawmakers with concealed-carry licenses hang on to their guns during legislative meetings and on the House and Senate floor. State law prohibits people from carrying guns during legislative committee meetings.
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said the proposal to allow lawmakers to carry guns during legislative meetings could lessen the chances of the overall open-carry bill succeeding in the Senate.
"Just a guess of mine, without talking to anyone in the Senate, this bill is already hostile to begin with over there, and now add to the fact that they can carry guns in the Senate chamber, I hoping that that turns out to be poison pill," Moskowitz sad.
Before the House voted on the bills, Senate President Andy Gardiner reiterated his belief that both the open-carry and campus-carry measures "are in trouble." Neither has made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Miami Republican Miguel Diaz de la Portilla.
"They're in Judiciary, and I allow the chairs to make the decisions on what bills they want to hear," Gardiner said. "Sen. Diaz de la Portilla has already decided not to hear the campus-carry bill. It was his decision. And now I think he has some concerns about open-carry."
The Senate version of open-carry (SB 300) may be heard by the Judiciary Committee next week.
Diaz de la Portilla has said he's open to considering amendments that could draw opposition from Second Amendment groups. That includes proposals by the Florida Sheriffs Association related to inadvertent or accidental displays of firearms. The sheriffs' proposals wouldn't allow open-carry and have been opposed by gun-rights groups.
The Florida Police Chiefs Association and some county sheriffs support have shown support for open-carry,
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said after Wednesday's meeting the House doesn't advance bills based upon what the Senate may or may not do.
"Our job is to focus on the priorities of the House, and this House has shown in history to be conservative on gun issues and very supportive of Second Amendment rights," Crisafulli said. "We feel that we passed a couple of good bills to send over to the Senate, and we'll see what happens from there."
Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, said while discussing the campus-carry issue that there hasn't been an increase in accidental discharges of guns or the "wild, wild west" scenarios that opponents have forecast, even as the number of people with concealed-weapons licenses has grown in Florida.
"This fear-mongering of allowing a mature adult to make an adult decision has to stop," Smith said.
Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, said allowing concealed-weapons license holders, who must be at least 21 years old, to have guns on campus would allow women to defend themselves from assaults.
But Democrats pointed to the stress of college life, which also includes widespread use of alcohol. They argued lawmakers should instead increase funding for training of campus security and for mental-health services.
"We continue to inject more and more guns into our society," said Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg. "This is a recipe for disaster."
Rep. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who passionately implored members to not "let this bullet leave this chamber," worried that the bills will make it tough for police to differentiate good guys from bad guys, and that shootings on campuses will become "commonplace."
"Will we become numb to guns on campus and fights that break out and lives that are taken?" Rouson said. "That's what I fear."