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Open-Carry Allowance and Ban on Backyard Shooting Among Gun Bills Heading for a Vote

| January 29, 2016

florida gun bills backyard shooting open-carry

Not in your backyard. (Loren Kerns)

Three gun-related measures — including an open-carry proposal and another that would change the burden of proof in the state’s “stand your ground” law — are headed to the House floor for a full vote.

A proposal that would let the nearly 1.5 million people in Florida with concealed-weapons licenses openly display firearms in public received a thumbs-up at its final committee stop on Thursday. Later in the day, the Senate passed two other gun measures, including the “stand your ground” proposal (SB 344).

The House will take up the self-defense measure after it receives the bill from the Senate, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s spokesman Michael Williams said in an email Thursday. A House version failed on a tie committee vote in November.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the open-carry bill (HB 163) after rejecting an amendment with alternatives suggested by the Florida Sheriffs Association. Gun rights advocates argued the amendment wouldn’t stop people with concealed-carry licenses from being arrested for accidentally exposing a sidearm.

“To every extent that our citizens can take more responsibility for their own safety, we enhance the public safety of the collective society,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who sponsored the bill, told reporters after the meeting. “Of course, there are circumstances where people use firearms in a bad way, just like there are circumstances where people use other weapons in a bad way. I don’t think that’s the function of the law. I think that’s the function of the individual.”

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a Tallahassee Democrat, joined Republicans on the committee in a 12-4 vote in favor of the proposal.

The committee tacked on an amendment that would require an openly carried gun to be in a holster, case or bag. The amended bill would also acknowledge that private employers can display written notices stating that possession of a firearm is prohibited.

The open-carry measure drew concerns from several lawmakers over its potential impact to tourism. Law enforcement officials are split on the proposal — the Florida Police Chiefs Association and some county sheriffs support it, while the Florida Sheriffs Association is opposed.

Lake Worth Democrat Rep. David Kerner argued that, with or without open-carry, concealed-weapon license holders can defend themselves now.

“Nobody wants this policy except a very small group of Floridians,” Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, said. “I don’t think we should jeopardize the image and safety of our state and law enforcement officers to appease a theory of constitutional law that is not accurate.”

Kerner, a former police officer, attempted to include language proposed by the Florida Sheriffs Association that would define measures for law enforcement when a concealed-weapons license holder inadvertently displays a sidearm.

But influential National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer dismissed concerns about the bill as “creative hyperbole.”

“Most license holders will never carry openly,” Hammer said. “But if they do they won’t cause a problem. And how do I know that? Because if they cause problems, they will lose their license and then they can’t carry concealed or openly.”

A Senate companion (SB 300) is awaiting a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, where amendments similar to Kerner’s are expected.

The Senate, meanwhile, on Thursday sent a pair of gun-related bills to the House.

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By a 24-12 vote, the Senate signed off on a measure (SB 344) that would alter the burden of proof in “stand your ground” self-defense cases.

Democrats contend the proposal will put an end to cases before all of the facts are fully revealed.

“It potentially stops an investigation cold after the last man standing tells his side of the story,” said Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa. “The dead do not have the opportunity to rebut the tale told by the survivor. In cases where there are no witnesses, this bill stacks the deck against the justice for the dead.”

The bill stems from a Supreme Court ruling last year that said defendants have the burden of proof of showing they should be shielded from prosecution under the “stand your ground” law. In “stand your ground” cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants should be immune from prosecution. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, would place the burden of proof on prosecutors in the evidentiary hearings.

Bradley, a former prosecutor, said the “fundamental tenet” of the criminal-justice system is that the state has the burden of proof in criminal proceedings.

“I think it’s simply incorrect to suggest that this bill will result in an otherwise guilty individual going free,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said. “If the state has sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute a defendant in a jury trial, the state will prevail in the immunity hearing before a judge and the judge will permit the case to go to trial.”

But Democrats argued that the measure would increase the likelihood of a repeat of the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old who was shot by neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford.

Zimmerman, who claimed he shot the teen in self defense, was not immediately charged. A jury later acquitted him of second-degree murder charges.

“We talk about the shifting of burden from the defendant on to the state. All I can do is think about how that (Zimmerman) trial played out and what I felt like when that jury verdict came down,” said Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat who is black.

Although the House version of the proposal (HB 169) failed on a tie vote in its only committee vetting last year, Williams said “the House will take up the (Senate) bill for consideration” when it receives the bill.

The Senate unanimously passed a second measure (SB 130) — dubbed the “backyard range” bill — intended to restrict the recreational discharge of a firearm in certain residential areas.

The measure prohibits the recreational discharge of a firearm outdoors, including for target shooting or celebratory shooting, in primarily residential areas with a density of one or more dwelling units per acre. A violation would be a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

A staff analysis of the bill pointed to reports about people constructing gun ranges in their backyards, with neighbors being concerned for safety. Law enforcement officials complained that they were hamstrung because their lawyers found the state statute barring ‚Äúrecklessly or negligently” discharging a firearm to be “subjective and vague.”

12 Responses for “Open-Carry Allowance and Ban on Backyard Shooting Among Gun Bills Heading for a Vote”

  1. Knightwatch says:

    The one thing sane Floridians can do to combat the insanity of “open carry” is to walk out of any public facility – restaurant, theater, grocery, pharmacy, whatever – if an open carry nutjob walks in. Oh, yeah, make sure that management knows why you are walking out. If enough of us put economic pressure on businesses, maybe we can get enough leverage to reverse this egregious legislation.

  2. r&r says:

    You noticed the picture shows all whites. They have to carry guns to protect themselves from the bad guys. such as !!!!!!!

  3. Rich Mikola says:

    Only redneck goobers will carry openly. The only reason would be to intimidate those around you or to show off your presumed manhood. Really stupid law. I am an NRA member, and have been for over 50 years. But stupid is as stupid does. The backyard firing range law is long overdue. To be able to live fire in your backyard in Palm Coast, with your neighbor’s kids 25 feet away is even more stupid than ‘open carry’.

  4. SanitySpeaks says:

    I would argue that not all backyards in FL are 25 feet. I would also point out that laws already exist which makes recreational discharge near a building (I believe 300ft?) also illegal. These laws may prohibit citizens with large backyards from constructing safe gun zones. Wouldn’t it be wise to have citizens who are proficient with firearms? Many people talk about having “trained people with firearms” but you have to practice! Gun ranges and clubs charge a lot of money. The convenience of backyard shooting in a safe direction is cheaper, more efficient and it’s not as if they are firing into someones window!

  5. confidential says:

    Agree only dangerous bullies want to go around showing their wears…to intimidate others. I guess I will have to get me a permit for open carry too. Really crass and nice way to scare off the tourism that Florida flags to make its revenue off. Backyards shooting practice another retarded idiocy with tragic consequences!
    Also sure I agree in the pics colors…they are all afraid of all minorities and even worst fear the Feds. Look the one they pull up in Oregon with a needles death. I see two wrongs there: one Mr. Finicum stand and intention to draw his weapon and two the needless shooting to kill him when they could have aimed at legs arms etc. no so lethal body parts. Now we have 11 kids without their Dad. All these guns for all, open carry, stand your ground, practice shoot in backyards, militias against our constitutional elected government…when are we going to end killing each other. Political domestic terrorism very tragic.

  6. GoodFella says:

    There is nothing wrong with open carry. I can finally show off my shiny DE 50. Seriously speaking, no one is really going to open carry but its nice to know that if it shows by accident you wont be locked up. As for the backyard range that does have to go. Even one acre is not enough space, you need at least 5 with a heck of a barrier to stop any accidents. As for walking out of an establishment with a person who is open carrying, thats just plain silly. That person could be saving your life from the thug that is illegally carrying!

  7. it's fun says:

    I actually have been enjoying making fun of people who carry guns. I enjoy antagonizing them about being scared of life and not having a spine. I am not intimidated by a person with a gun but actually quite the opposite, knowing they can not use the gun they are carrying gives me the upper hand. We have a guy on the road who shoots his guns in the backyard when drunk, but they face the woods when shooting. The problem is people walk and children play in those woods. The police do nothing about it.

  8. Outsider says:

    I will not carry openly when this law passes , but it will be nice to know I won’t be arrested for accidental display. As for the drunk guy firing a weapon in his backyard, he should be arrested for using a firearm while under the influence. There will be no love lost by me to see that happen.

  9. Jadobi says:

    Not everyone who carries a gun is scared of life… it is quite the contrary, they would rather not end up dead. I personally carry a firearm 100% of the time. I am also in law enforcement and choose to defend myself rather than run or hide. Don’t forget, I may be defending you and your family too. Oh, I do disagree with open carry. My gun is neatly tucked away, you’d probably never know I have it on.

  10. Sherry says:

    Knightwatch. . . what a great idea! I’m right there with you. Not only will we walk out, but we’ll make sure the proprietor knows that we will not give our business to any establishment where guns can be seen. How appalling. . . especially for children!!!!

  11. Bc says:

    I carry whenever I leave home have been doing so for 45 years. If this law should pass I will not open carry stupid law. WHY would one want to open carry can you see your dumb ass standing in a bank store etc. when the bad guys come in to rob the place armed, I don’t think you will be standing for long you will be the first one shot at and it could endanger everyone else that’s there. what’s the point of open carry is it to show you are a macho cowboy hey look at me. Also I am sure all you Rambo types will carry large frame hand guns not the ones we now carry to conceal. as a NRA member and a cwp holder I hope this law does not pass

  12. Jim in Palm Beach says:

    Being a long time firearms instructor, most of that as a law enforcement instructor, I am not big into the idea of open carry, like other open carry states, but I do support not charging a licensed concealed carrier whose weapon negligently shows. If they plan accordingly, they should not have a weapon exposure, but exigent circumstances occur. A hug problem is the number of carriers who believe that kidney carry is smart. Here’s why I think it stinks: 1). Can’t get to it easily when seated, 2). Hard to defend if attacked 3). Too many of us want to wear that “special” t-shirt we bought or got for free 20-years ago and it’s way too tight now, and shows the outline of our guns (ditch the shirt and go baggy), and more. Short of reckless display and no criminal intent, why charge someone lawfully carrying when they did not mean to expose their weapon? Blatant open carry? I totally disagree. It’s a recipe for road rage encounters that quickly escalate to gun fights. I would NEVER want a badguy to know I have a gun. Oh yeah, I don’t carry for me, as I am a big guy. I carry because I would never forgive myself if I allowed someone to needlessly die in front of me given an acute forcible felony situation where my actions wouldn’t endanger others. And I am no hero. Having a CCW does not make us the designated hero of the day and I hope and pray every day to NEVER need it, but it’s better to have it and be prepared than need it and not have it.

    As for backyard ranges? I have one that has dirt and 6-layers of 2″x6″, 6-feet high and wide, an I live on 1.25-acres with woods behind my backstop and I still don’t shoot firearms into it. I shoot airguns into it. Overkill? Yes, but no-one can ever say I didn’t go above and beyond, yet I still get my trigger time in.

    A firearm is a tool, just like a DeWalt drill, but it will drill a hole into someone’s head more than a mile away if handled negligently. Get trained and always exercise safe firearms handling skills, because you own what your bullet hits and hitting people sucks, lawfully or not, and you can’t take it back.
    IMHO… stay safe and happy and know the law. God Bless. GET TRAINED !!!

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