A National Rifle Association-supported measure that failed to win legislative approval a year ago appears to have a clear shot of advancing now that it has the backing of the Florida Sheriffs Association.
House and Senate committees Wednesday approved similar bills (SB 290 and HB 493) that would allow legal gun owners to carry their guns without concealed-weapons licenses during the first 48 hours after emergency evacuation orders are given.
A version of the proposal, which didn’t include the evacuation time frame or other new language, died in the Senate last year amid a contentious debate.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, representing the Florida Sheriffs Association, said Wednesday his organization has altered its stance due to the new provisions. Along with the 48-hour time frame, the new version allows people to carry concealed weapons without licenses as long as they are “in the act of evacuating,” regardless of their locations.
Last year “it didn’t provide enough parameters, enough definitive information as to what somebody could be doing and not doing in a time frame,” Gualtieri said.
In addition to the 48-hour window for people to carry weapons while they get away from evacuation zones once an order is given, the bill would allow the governor to extend such an order by an additional 48 hours.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who sponsored the proposal last year and this year, said efforts to alter the proposal in 2014 only created more questions, such as the possibility of limiting the carrying of concealed weapons to county borders.
“The problem is that the county line in Pinellas is the middle of a bridge sometimes,” Brandes said after the meeting. “It actually made it worse for individuals because there was complete ambiguity with the law.”
The House backed the measure 80-36 a year ago and the NRA made clear last May it would seek to bring back the issue during the 2015 legislative session, describing the sheriffs association at the time as declaring “war on the Second Amendment.”
On Wednesday, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted 9-2 to back this year’s proposal, sponsored by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers. The votes in opposition were from Democrats Clovis Watson of Alachua and Randolph Bracy of Orlando.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee backed its version of the measure 5-1. Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, a Boynton Beach Democrat who supported the proposal, expressed concern that people being forced to evacuate because of a hurricane must “leave their guns in their home for looters or anybody else can come in and take them.”
But in voting against the measure, Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said after the meeting she has concerns that more weapons will be on the road during a declared disaster.
“I just envision people leaving in an emergency and people having guns when law enforcement is not at its best in terms of being able to enforce what goes on,” Thompson said.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-1 on Feb. 16 to back the proposal, and the next stop before reaching the Senate floor is the Rules Committee.
The House measure must still go through the Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee and the Judiciary Committee.
The failure of last year’s bill came despite Florida lawmakers rushing to approve NRA-supported Second Amendment proposals during the past several years.
Since taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law 12 gun-related measures backed by the NRA.
The bills have ranged from highly contentious measures, such as the so-called “docs vs. glocks” law in 2011, to less-controversial laws such as allowing tax collectors’ offices to handle concealed-weapons license applications.
Scott’s overall total is nine more than former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist approved while enjoying an equally Republican-dominated Legislature between 2007 and 2010. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who was in office for eight years, penned his name on 14 pro-gun laws, including the state’s “stand your ground” law.