Marion Hammer, lobbyist supreme for the National Rifle Association, told lawmakers on a Florida Senate committee that if they didn’t allow unlicensed gun owners to carry their weapons after evacuating during an emergency, burglars and looters would get them — “which puts more guns in the hands of criminals, and that poses a greater danger to emergency personnel, law enforcement and military personnel.”
Five of the nine members of the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee did as they were told, and voted to approve this misguided exemption for gun owners. Commend the four lawmakers on the losing side, including Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, and Maria Lorts Sachs, D-Delray Beach, for saying No.
Of course, here’s what Ms. Hammer didn’t say: You support the NRA, lawmakers, and you will continue to have our deep-pocketed backing, too. She didn’t have to. It’s a tragic pact that has made the majority of Floridians less safe, enabled others who are packing to claim they fired because they were afraid — “He threw popcorn at me” — and put Florida on the map as a place to, maybe, avoid.
It’s the cozy relationship that let lawmakers agree to muzzle doctors who asked patients about guns in their homes; and remain dead-set against tightening Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground law, which, coupled with the state’s concealed-gun permits, has granted too many hotheads — including gang members — the right to shoot and get away with it. And in keeping with the base nature of the Legislature’s twisted priorities, the House Justice Appropriations Committee, on Wednesday, voted 8-4 to allow trained officials to carry weapons in schools.
So it comes as absolutely no surprise that a majority of state lawmakers are poised to allow unlicensed and untrained gun owners to carry their weapons in emergencies — when everyone is cool, calm and collected, right? The pattern is deeply ingrained in the state Capitol — to our detriment.
Senate Bill 296 will put more guns on desolate streets when people are jumpy, on clogged roads, on long lines for food and gas at precisely the wrong time. Mass emergencies, with the uncertainty, fear and, sometimes, chaos that accompany them, rarely bring out evacuees’ Zen-like nature.
This bill, and its companion, House Bill 209, put armed, potentially dangerous, folks out in public who have not qualified for a license to carry a firearm.
Is it any wonder that the Florida Sheriffs Association opposes them? Last week, Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee sensibly cast the only No vote on the House Judiciary Committee, saying that the bills can spawn “local militias.” Rep. Daphne Campbell, unfortunately, voted Yes.
Currently, Florida’s gun owners can take weapons with them when evacuating in a declared emergency. However, they must be securely encased and not in a gun owner’s physical possession. This clearly belies Ms. Hammer’s contention that thugs and looters will snag these weapons in residents’ vacant homes — those guns aren’t there.
Gov. Rick Scott and the National Guard came out in support of these bills, over the objections of the chief lawyer for the Florida Department of Military Affairs — overseen by Mr. Scott. There is still a chance for lawmakers in both chambers to come to their senses and reject these bills. First, they would have to put Floridians’ safety above their own political well-being.