TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A controversial proposal that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to bring guns to churches, synagogues and other religious institutions that share property with schools is ready to go to the House floor.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 12-5 on Wednesday to advance the measure (HB 1437), which does not have a Senate version.
State law generally allows people to carry concealed weapons at religious institutions, but it bars being armed on school properties. The House bill would allow religious institutions to authorize people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at any location “owned, rented, leased, or lawfully used” by the institutions. Property owners allowing religious institutions on their property could still prohibit people from carrying firearms.
“Right now, if your church is located on the same (site) as a pre-school, and that pre-school meets Monday through Friday, you would not be allowed to carry on Sunday, and this will change that,” bill sponsor Jayer Williamson, R- Pace, said.
Proponents have pushed the effort for several years, with it attracting extra attention after several church and synagogue shootings across the nation and a rise in anti-Semitism. Opponents have argued the measure could result in people bringing guns to public schools that make space available to religious groups, even when the religious groups aren’t meeting.
“Guns and schools don’t mix,” Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, said. “I recognize the right of a religious congregation to control its own affairs. But when there is a school attached, I think it becomes a different circumstance. Kids are there and that’s a bad combination.”
Republicans on Wednesday expressed concerns about the risk of gun-free zones.
“We have to let people protect themselves or we have to protect them,” Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, said. “I don’t think we want to set up churches or other religious services or places where everyone’s welcome, we don’t want to start putting metal detectors at the entrances to religious services or checking people for weapons or having only people on an approved list allowed to come in.”
Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, broke from his Democratic colleagues on the committee and supported the proposal.
“I don’t want to have that on my hands to know that a church had the opportunity to protect themselves,” Alexander said. “They are a sitting target, you’re talking $15,000, $20,000 in one church service.”