Emergency guns measure clears Florida Senate committee


News Service of Florida

A National Rifle Association-backed measure to allow people without concealed weapons licenses to pocket their guns during emergencies squeaked out of the Senate committee where it has been on hold for two weeks.

The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee spent less than 15 minutes on Tuesday primarily taking public testimony on the emergency-carry measure (SB 296) before approving it with a 5-4 vote and no debate.

The measure still has one scheduled stop before reaching the Senate floor. A similar House proposal (HB 209) is ready for a full floor vote.

Both proposals are opposed by the Florida Sheriffs Association, but have found support from the Florida National Guard, under pressure from Gov. Rick Scott.

Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, twice delayed votes on his proposal because he lacked the support to carry the measure forward.

But on Tuesday, Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, a Royal Palm Beach Democrat who was absent from the prior two meetings, gave Brandes the swing vote he needed. Abruzzo’s vote was needed to offset a “no” from Sen. Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican and former Citrus County sheriff.

Abruzzo, who served in the military reserves, said there was no arm twisting for his support.

“I am where I am, I think the legislation meets a purpose,” said Abruzzo, “I supported it right off the bat.”

Currently, people can bring their guns with them when following evacuation orders, but the firearms must be securely encased and not in the person’s physical possession.

Brandes’s bill would create an exemption to state law regarding concealed weapons by allowing individuals who have not qualified for the licenses to keep their guns with them when ordered to relocate after a governor-declared state of emergency, such as a riot, hurricane or wildfire.

“I just needed everybody to show up to vote,” Brandes said after the meeting.

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said she knew the votes were there.

Hammer had warned the committee that guns left behind by evacuees could be lost or stolen by looters, “which puts more guns in the hands of criminals and that poses a greater danger to emergency personnel, law enforcement and military personnel.”

But Electra Bustle, a lobbyist for the Florida Sheriffs Association, said the bill’s language is too vague and lacks specifics about where an individual can carry their gun after they have evacuated.

“We need parameters on time, place and the manner in which to carry,” Bustle said.

Questions also remain about how long an individual can conceal-carry without a license once an evacuation order has been given, Bustle said.

“Does it apply the entire time while out of home regardless of where one is in the state?” she asked.

The Senate measure differs slightly from the broader House proposal which would allow the emergency order to come from “a local authority” in addition to the governor.

Scott and the National Guard this week came out in support of the plan after the NRA took issue with objections to the bill expressed by the chief lawyer for the Florida Department of Military Affairs. The agency is overseen by Scott, who is seeking re-election this year.

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