Opposing Open Carry, Sheriffs Instead Propose Immunity for Accidental Display of Guns
FlaglerLive | January 20, 2016
Florida sheriffs Wednesday proposed an alternative to a controversial bill that would let people with concealed-weapons licenses openly display firearms in public, but the proposal quickly drew opposition from Second Amendment advocates.
The Florida Sheriffs Association, which has opposed the open-carry measure, outlined proposed steps that would provide immunity to people who inadvertently or accidentally display firearms. However, a release from the association noted the proposal “stops short of Florida becoming a complete open-carry state.”
The Senate version of the bill (SB 300) has not been heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee. But committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said Tuesday he’s likely to schedule the bill for a vote, saying, “I heard there may be some good amendments.”
On Wednesday, Diaz de la Portilla said he was still reviewing the sheriffs’ proposal, which the association said would protect permit holders from arrest for unintentionally displaying weapons in violation of state law.
The proposal would require that people intentionally and deliberately violate the law before they could be arrested. Also, it would take steps such as establish a presumption that concealed-weapons license holders are lawfully carrying guns; prohibit people from being convicted if they aren’t given a chance to explain possible violations of the law; and allow the expungement of arrest records under the law if people are found not guilty or charges are dismissed.
“Our proposal protects those who responsibly carry concealed and creates certainty in the law to prevent any unnecessary arrest and prosecution of gun owners who are otherwise following the law,” Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, the association’s president, said in a prepared statement.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the association’s legislative chairman, added that the proposal “is a solid alternative to opening the door to full-blown open carry, which creates significant public safety challenges for law enforcement.”
But National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer quickly expressed disapproval with the proposed changes.
“My reaction to the sheriffs’ proposal is not only no, but hell no,” Hammer said. “They’ve had five years to do this, to correct problems they knew exist.”
A similar proposal was offered in 2011, and Hammer said her legal counsel advised her not to accept it because it wouldn’t stop abuse of people with concealed-carry licenses from being arrested for accidentally exposing guns.
“My attorney said don’t take that amendment because it won’t work,” Hammer said. “People have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The Constitution doesn’t say that the sheriffs get to say how.”
The release from the sheriffs association said the proposal seeks to address concerns expressed in committee meetings by Hammer and others about people with concealed-carry licenses being arrested for accidentally and unintentionally allowing guns to become visible.
“In announcing the proposal, the FSA (Florida Sheriffs Association) is asking the Legislature to consider an alternative proposal that closes the loopholes but balances public safety concerns,” the sheriffs’ release said.
Sean Caranna, executive director of the gun-rights organization Florida Carry Inc., described the sheriffs’ proposal as “woefully insufficient.”
“The FSA’s predictions of ‘significant public safety challenges for law enforcement’ echo the cries of law enforcement in Texas and Oklahoma before licensed open carry went into effect in those states and in Mississippi when it became the 30th unlicensed open carry state,” Caranna said in an email. “After open carry became legal in those states, law enforcement officials have universally admitted that their fears about open carry passing was all much ado about nothing.”
The House’s open-carry proposal (HB 163) has already cleared the committee process and awaits a floor vote.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida