Guns at church bill goes to Florida governor’s desk

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A multiyear effort to close a loophole preventing churches with schools on their grounds from allowing firearms on their premises is heading to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

Republicans say it will make the churches safer, while Democrats argue it will do just the opposite.

Places of worship can already allow guns on their property, but if they have a school on their grounds, they can’t. Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, says all this legislation does is close that loophole.

“It’s not up to the individual. The religious institution can still determine time, place, where, when, how, who,” Gruters said.

But Democrats argue more guns equals more danger.

“I believe there are other ways to make those institutions safe, and we all know basically nowhere is safe, and that’s because there are just too many guns in America,” said Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton.

Gruters points to a case in 2019 when a gunman was stopped by an armed churchgoer at the West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas.

“Six seconds it took them to secure that location,” Gruters said.

Democrats say they fear that if a church doesn’t allow firearms, the legislation could open them up to lawsuits.

“We’ve seen that the NRA is voracious in their ability and their willingness to go to court and try to block any kind of common sense gun safety precaution,” said Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point.

But Gruters rejects that suggestion and arguments made by opponents that if a church is on leased property, the property owner would have no say as to whether firearms are allowed.

“Property owners ultimately still have the ultimate control. They get to decide. If the leases are silent, I would say that this is a change of terms of the agreement and they can go back and address that,” Gruters said.

The legislation will take effect upon the governor’s signature.

Chances of a veto are slim to none.

The legislation only applies to concealed carry permit holders, which, according to a 2016 report conducted by the Crime Prevention Research Center, are the most law-abiding demographic in the country.