TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Carrying a concealed weapon in a religious institution has been illegal if the organization also operates a day care center or school, but state House members said that, after shootings in South Carolina and Texas, churches no longer need to be gun-free zones.
The state Senate will hear its companion legislation Thursday morning. After two shooters claimed 35 lives in church shootings, Florida lawmakers want to make sure churches in Florida are not gun-free zones.
“We are faced with the unenviable decision of committing a third-degree felony, or allowing our congregants to protect themselves,” state Rep. Ross Spano said.
“The vulnerability of our churches is something this bill is simply seeking to reduce,” state Rep. Lawrence McClure said.
The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America called the legislation unnecessary.
“It’s trying to solve a problem that does not exist,” Beth Dumond, of the Moms Demand Action group, said.
But committee members pushed back.
“I believe you said this tries to fix a problem that doesn’t exist and then you list a few churches where there have been mass shootings, such as Charleston and Texas,” Rep. Chris Latvala asked. “I don’t see how both of those can jive together.”
Neither did the National Rifle Association.
“This bill is strictly about restoring the private property rights of churches, synagogues and other religious institutions," said Marion Hammer, with Unified Sportsmen of Florida.
In the end, the legislation passed overwhelmingly, but the legislation only applies to churches that either have a day care center or operate a school.
Because churches and synagogues have the final say, this legislation is considered one of the few gun bills considered likely to pass before lawmakers go home in March.