NRA optimistically looks forward to next year with pro-gun legislators

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The top two legislative priorities of the NRA this past year -- campus carry and open carry -- were stopped by one lone state senator, but the political roadblock was removed when the senator did not win re-election.

Bills that would have allowed concealed-carry permit holders to carry on college campuses, and allowed open carry so police aren’t arresting someone when their weapon is inadvertently exposed, both died this year, in large part to state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla.

The then-Senate Judiciary chairman refused to hear the bills, even though open-carry sponsor Don Gaetz said Diaz de la Portilla had promised to give the bill a hearing.

"Three times he said he would hear the bill, three times he failed to hear the bill. He didn’t tell the truth, he misled us," former Sen. Gaetz said. 

Diaz de la Portilla lost his Senate race to a Democrat who also opposes open and campus carry, but still, the NRA called it a victory.

The NRA said it is also cautiously optimistic about Donald Trump’s election, because while he has said he will defend Second Amendment rights, he is yet to be proven.

Marion Hammer of Unified Sportsmen of Florida said she knows a Hillary Clinton victory would have seen renewed efforts at gun control.

"At least he’s honest about his views and he’s honest about what he would do," Hammer said. 

The NRA is already looking forward to next year. House and Senate pro-gun legislators won in the primary and general election, including pro-gun House members who moved to the Senate.

"Top on the NRA’s agenda, open carry and campus carry," Hammer said. "So when you can elect proven Second Amendment supporters to office in the Senate, you help yourself, you help gun owners."

One of the NRA-friendly lawmakers elected is Cord Byrd, who was elected to House District 11, the seat representing Nassau County and Jacksonville's beaches that was previously held by Janet Adkins. Byrd is a constitutional lawyer specializing in firearms law.

"The support of the NRA and gun owners was very crucial to my campaign and certainly I will be in advocate for the Second Amendment and gun rights in Tallahassee," Byrd said.

Gun-rights groups like Florida Carry look forward to working with people like Byrd and other legislators to pass a campus carry bill that has failed two years in a row. Last year it was passed by the House but was never considered by any Senate committee.

"These are abiding adults. They carry their firearms regularly off-campus, and there's no reason they shouldn't be allowed to carry them on campus as well," said Eric Friday of Florida Carry.

One UNF student told News4Jax that he didn't support the campus carry bill last year. He said if it came up again, he would want to see how it was written before deciding.

Byrd said he supported last year's bill, but he's not sure if he will sponsor the bill in the upcoming session since each lawmaker only gets six slots, but it is something he supports.

"College students who are 21 years of age, which is what the law requires, and go through the proper procedures should have the ability to defend themselves just like any other law-abiding citizen would," Byrd said.