October 22, 2015

Florida police, sheriffs groups oppose open-carry gun proposals

Javier ortiz


Groups representing Florida sheriffs and police officers came out this week in opposition to a controversial legislative proposal that would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to openly carry their guns statewide.

Law enforcement representatives say Senate Bill 300 / House Bill 163 would restrict the ability of officers to ensure public safety and the bills fail to include enhanced training and requirements for the holstering and handling of openly carried weapons, among other concerns.

Supporters of the legislation -- sponsored by Republican father-son duo Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach -- argue it strengthens Second Amendment rights for Americans to defend themselves.

The Florida Fraternal Order of Police unanimously opposes the legislation, specifically because of a provision that would prohibit an officer from asking for someone's concealed-carry permit unless the officer had "probable cause" -- a more stringent legal standard than what is currently in law. If the officer made the request without probable cause, the officer could face a $5,000 fine and the agency they work for could be fined $100,000, under the proposed law.

"If something happens and an officer is not allowed to, at least, ask someone and inquire during the situation of a protest if they should be openly carrying, you’re tying their hands," Lisa Henning, the group's legislative liaison, told senators this week.

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October 20, 2015

Proposals allowing open carry, guns on campus advance


Two Florida Senate committees advanced controversial gun bills Tuesday that would make it easier for the 1.4 million Floridians with concealed-weapons permits to carry firearms openly in public and on college campuses and universities.

Both bills still have to be vetted by other committees before they could reach the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote. Companion bills are also being considered in the House.

A bill allowing concealed guns on Florida’s colleges and university campuses passed the Senate Higher Education Committee by a 5-3 vote, along party lines with the panel’s three Democrats opposed.

The proposal -- Senate Bill 68, sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker -- would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on college campuses.

Supporters of the “campus-carry” bill, including one woman who said she was a rape victim, argued that it would allow students, professors and staff to defend themselves against active shooters or sexual assault attacks.

“You certainly have my support to defend yourself the way you see fit,” Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, told the woman.

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October 19, 2015

VIDEO: Gun bills go before Senate committees on Tuesday


Two controversial gun bills being considered by the Republican-led Florida Legislature for the 2016 session will get another vetting on Tuesday before two Senate committees.

The guns-on-campus bill -- which would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms on a college or university campus -- will be heard by the Senate Higher Education Committee. And a bill to allow conceal-carry permit-holders to carry openly goes before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Both hearings are at 9 a.m.

The guns-on-campus bill received favorable votes from both House and Senate criminal justice committees last month. This is the Senate's first crack at the open-carry legislation, which received a favorable vote two weeks ago in the House.

Expect passionate debate and some changes to each of the bills. Amendments have been filed for both committees to consider tomorrow.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, wants to let colleges and universities opt out of the guns-on-campus proposal, should they desire to. And for the open-carry bill, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, filed an amendment that fortifies the right of private property owners to dictate whether someone can pack heat on their property.

October 14, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott declines to weigh in on legislature's gun bills; legislative leaders expect them on session agenda


As the Florida Legislature considers several highly consequential gun bills this fall in the run-up to the 2016 session, Republican Gov. Rick Scott won't say how he feels about them.

Bills already being considered by legislative committees would allow the carrying of concealed weapons on college campuses and allow the open-carrying of firearms by those who have concealed weapons permits.

Another bill filed Tuesday by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, would allow permit-holders to carry concealed weapons into public meetings -- including gatherings of local school boards, municipalities and the Florida Legislature. The bill also lifts the ban on concealed-carry in career centers.  Download HB 4031_AsFiled

The cumulative effect of the bills, should all three proposals clear the legislature and be signed into law, would be significant. Concealed-carry permit-holders would essentially be allowed to openly carry firearms anywhere from townhalls and the Florida Capitol to college campuses and those private businesses that allow customers to pack heat.

"I haven't seen all the proposals," Scott told reporters Tuesday during the Associated Press' annual legislative planning day. "I believe in the Second Amendment. If they pass those bills, I'll review those bills as they pass them."

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October 07, 2015

Florida Supreme Court will hear challenge to state's ban on openly carrying guns


The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Fort Pierce man's constitutional challenge to Florida's ban on openly carried weapons.

The agreement from the court came in a notice filed late Tuesday, the same day a House committee advanced a proposal to allow Floridians with concealed-carry permits to openly carry their weapons in public. Florida has prohibited open-carrying of firearms since the late 1980s.

Dale Lee Norman was arrested in 2012 while openly carrying a firearm; he had it in a holster in public view, according to court records. He was found guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor after a jury trial in St. Lucie County. On appeal, he challenged the constitutionality of Florida's law, citing the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's decision.

Supreme Court Justices gave Norman until Oct. 26 to file his brief with the court. Oral arguments haven't yet been scheduled.

Read the Supreme Court's order.

October 06, 2015

Open-carry bill passes Florida House subcommittee


Gun owners in Florida with concealed-carry permits are one step closer to getting the right to openly carry those weapons in public, under legislation that cleared a House subcommittee today by a 8-4 vote.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who introduced HB 163, said it “restores and vindicates” Second Amendment rights and promotes public safety. But critics of the proposal said it should, at a minimum, include better training requirements and also better protect property owner’s rights if they don't want weapons in their homes or businesses.

Those who are in total opposition said an open-carry law in Florida would instill fear, rather than calm.

“When I am out at Starbucks and there’s a cop there with his gun, it’s intimidating and it’s scary,” said Shawn Bartelt, a retiree and mother of two teenagers from Orlando. “I do not want to walk around when I walk my dogs and know that somebody’s carrying a gun out there. … I don’t want my kids raised in a world where we’re being less civilized.”

Gaetz argued that fighting for gun-owners’ rights has the opposite effect, and he said federal crime statistics are on his side.

“While we will certainly hear from shrill voices on the left that open carry will lead to the wild, wild west, that is not borne out by any of the data we have,” Gaetz said. He said U.S. Department of Justice statistics from 2012 actually show less violent crime in states with open-carry laws.

Florida is one of only five states and the District of Columbia, which prohibit openly carrying firearms and other restricted weapons.

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October 05, 2015

Bill allowing open carry of guns in Florida gets first hearing Tuesday



As the national debate over gun laws has resurfaced in the wake of last week's deadly community college shooting in Oregon, Florida continues to debate its own proposals here in Tallahassee.

Next up is a bill that would relax existing state law by allowing anyone who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon to also openly carry that firearm in public. The proposal gets its first hearing before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday morning, and it's sure to draw input from both gun-rights advocates and gun-control supporters.

HB 163 is sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. It's co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Neil Combee of Polk County, Brad Drake of Eucheeanna, Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, Jay Fant of Jacksonville and Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights.  Van Zant and Fant both sit on the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Download HB163_AsIntroduced

Gaetz's father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, introduced the Senate companion (SB 300), which has yet to be referred to a committee in that chamber.

Matt and Don Gaetz are holding a press conference at 8 a.m. Tuesday to discuss their legislation at the Capitol.

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September 16, 2015

Justice panels start legislative year by passing gun bills


Two pieces of legislation backed by the National Rifle Association cleared House and Senate criminal justice panels Wednesday, including a highly controversial proposal to allow concealed weapons on college campuses.

They were the first bills passed by any committee for the legislative session that begins in January.

Supporters say the campus concealed carry bill by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker — which passed both the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Senate Criminal Justice Committee, with all but one Republican supporting it and every Democrat opposed — is about public safety. Concealed carry permit holders could help keep campuses safe in the event of a mass shooting or other violent crime.

But the bill (HB 4001, SB 68) has drawn ire from state university presidents and police chiefs and the State University System’s Board of Governors, as well as gun control advocates. It would allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to bring their gun with them to a college or university.

“When I applied to UCF, I wasn’t expecting to walk the halls and attend class wondering if the person next to me was trained to carry a firearm,” said Adam Whitmer, a former Marine and instructor in the Corps’ firearm training.

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August 07, 2015

Steube, Evers file bills allowing concealed carry on college campuses


Controversial bills that would arm some people with concealed guns on college and school campuses will be back before the Legislature in 2016.

The two bills failed to pass the House and Senate in 2015.

One (SB 68, HB 4001), introduced by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, would allow anyone with a concealed carry license from the state to bring their guns with them on college campuses. Right now, it’s illegal to have a gun on any state college or university property.

The other (SB 72), by Evers, would give school districts the power to arm one employee or volunteer in each school. The individual would have to be a member of the military, a veteran or a current or retired law enforcement officer.

Both National Rifle Association-backed bills died in the Senate last year after committee chairs refused to schedule them for a vote. Evers said he’ll keep trying to pass them until he succeeds.

“A person should be able to exercise their Second Amendment right for their self protection of themselves as well as those around them,” he said. “It’s not even safe to go to a movie theater anymore. I think that’s more of a call for folks having self protection.”

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June 29, 2015

Jeb Bush spoke on guns, religion and the flag in South Carolina

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush met privately with pastors in Charleston today and then toured Nephron Pharmaceutical Company in West Columbia, South Carolina, where he took questions from employees.

During the question and answer, Bush addressed a broad range of topics including immigration reform, gun control, the Confederate flag and foreign policy.

When speaking about education, Bush brought up his call for immigration reform without mentioning anything about a path to citizenship.

Instead, he linked immigration to growing jobs:

“A lot of students would love to come here and stay here and contribute to our society and be able to create opportunities for others that do embrace the technologies and STEM-related fields. It's not a zero sum game. The more we can grow our economy the more opportunity that will exist for more people.”

Bush reiterated his support for gun rights about two weeks after the shooting at the Charleston church that left nine people dead. He noted that Florida has about 1.3 million concealed weapon permits.

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