TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A House panel Tuesday advanced two gun bills, backed by the National Rifle Association, that are reopening a debate about whether people with concealed-weapons licenses should be able to carry guns on school campuses used by churches and store firearms in vehicles on school property.
The proposals are being considered a year after gun restrictions, opposed by the NRA, were passed by the Legislature in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
This year, as lawmakers continue to address school security, including the possibility of allowing armed classroom teachers as “guardians,” two proposals that would partially open the door to possession of concealed guns on school property moved forward in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican who is sponsoring one of the proposals (HB 6005), said his bill would help teachers who are trained to be armed school guardians. The bill would allow them to store weapons in their vehicles when parked on school grounds.
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer spoke in favor of the bill Tuesday, saying it would protect Second Amendment rights.
“The bill corrects a problem with current statute,” Hammer said. “The law allows you to carry a firearm in your vehicle for protections. We are a mobile society.”
Under Byrd’s proposal, school districts could ban students from storing firearms inside vehicles on school property. But his proposal would not allow districts to prohibit employees or parents from doing so. The proposal would not affect bans on carrying guns into school facilities or school-sponsored events.
Tiffany Wilkes, a mother, said she's against the bill.
"I don't think it's going to solve anything," she said. "I don't think we need to bring them on campus, period. They are causing enough problems."
A separate proposal approved by the House panel would allow religious institutions to authorize people to carry guns on property that the institutions own or rent, including schools. The proposal (HB 403) was approved following pushback from teachers and the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association, and support from a number of sheriffs, including Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey.
Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican who is sponsoring the legislation, said the decision ultimately would fall on the property owner and that her proposal intends to give religious institutions power to do what is in the best interest of its members.
“The state has no more right to strip churches of their property rights than it has of me or you from having a gun in your home because you home-school your children and grandchildren,” Hammer argued. “This makes it clear that churches have a right to make decisions about the safety of members and guests at religious institutions.”
Balel Xzavian, a father of three, told News4Jax he believes people being allowed to bring concealed weapons into religious institutions could be a good idea.
"I'm not so bothered by that most," he said. "With the outbreak of violence at churches and synagogues and mosques and all of that, it might be a bit necessary and, as I know, some of the people are already carrying anyway."
Under current state law, possessing a firearm on school property is a third-degree felony that can be punished by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, and Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, have filed Senate versions of the bills, but they have not received hearings after the first week of the 60-day legislative session.