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Latvala, sheriffs help take out Brandes' NRA-backed gun bill

It’s not often that a bill backed by the National Rifle Association dies in the Florida Legislature, which is dominated by proud gun-owning conservative Republicans and Democrats.

But that’s what happened Thursday thanks to the combination of the lobbying force of the Florida Sheriff’s Association and the legislative acumen of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who for the second straight day helped kill a controversial bill.

SB 296 would have allowed those in lawful possession of guns to conceal weapons without a permit during mandatory evacuations and local emergencies, such as riots. That's not the same as a gun owner, and could apply to adult children or spouses of gun owners with clean criminal records who are found carrying guns.

The bill, which passed the House last month 80-36, was “insane”, said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who worked with Latvala to add an amendment to the bill that would have limited the exemption for concealed weapons permits to 24 hours. It also would remove the exemption once the carrier of the weapon reached their destination upon evacuation.

“It just provides a reasonable limit,” said Latvala, who delayed the bill from getting discussed on Wednesday. 

It passed 23-15, with the support of Tampa Bay senators Latvala, and John Legg of Trinity, another Republican, and Arthenia Joyner, a Democrat. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton and the sponsor of the bill, Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, voted against the amendment.

Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, is a former sheriff of Citrus County who normally backs NRA measures. Not this time. He said it went too far, and would made it hard for law enforcement to pick out "the average joe" who might be packing hear during evacuations.

After the amendment was added, Brandes pulled his bill. Afterward, he said he wasn’t going to bring it back this session.

“(The amendment) makes it a felony if you’re a minute late after the evacuation,” Brandes said. “It makes the bill anti-2nd Amendment. It defeats the whole purpose.”

Brandes said he'll try to bring it back next year.

Gualtieri said he was surprised that Brandes felt that way. He said he worked with Latvala to make sure the amendment brought clarity to the proposed law so that law enforcement knew how to enforce it. Without the specifics the amendment provided, the bill was too vague, he said.

“It put understandable terms to the bill,” he said. “I really don’t get why he feels that way. Why would he want the law to be ambiguous?”

Drawing attention to the bill’s survivalist, every-man-for-himself ethos, Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, filed an amendment that would include, among the emergencies where permits weren’t need to carry guns, a zombie apocalypse. It wasn’t heard on the Senate floor, however, because Brandes pulled his bill before it was heard.

“Of course he was,” Brandes said when asked if Bullard was poking fun at the bill.

Gualtieri said he’s reading for the NRA backlash. He said members had been sending strongly-worded emails to lawmakers in the past few days urging the passage of the bill.

“There was a lot of pushing on this,” he said. “If they’re going to come after me now, so be it. Get in line, I guess.”