A measure that would allow people without concealed-weapons permits to pocket their legally owned guns during a declared emergency is now headed to the governor.
The House voted 86-26 on Thursday to approve a proposal (SB 290) that would allow people to carry guns without concealed-weapons licenses for 48 hours during mandatory emergency evacuations. The bill would only apply to people who legally own guns.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott, who prodded the Florida National Guard to back a similar measure last year, wouldn't say on Thursday if Scott would sign this year's proposal.
"If it gets to his desk he'll review it," Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.
Last year's proposal died in the Senate, amid concerns by the Florida Sheriffs Association and some Republican and Democratic senators.
But Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, made changes this year to address the concerns of law enforcement, such as adding the 48-hour limit. The timeframe can be extended by the governor during a crisis.
Proponents say the measure allows people to bring their firearms, along with other valuables, when they are forced to leave home because of hurricanes or other disasters.
"The unintended consequence would be for certain having looters to come and take weapons that have been left behind, whether they be valuable heirlooms or standard-issue firearms," said Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, the House sponsor of the bill. "If you think for one moment that I want to walk out in an emergency situation and not be able to have some means of protecting myself and my family, you're sadly mistaken."
The narrowly tailored bill doesn't address issues such as what people without licenses must do with their weapons if they evacuate to shelters that prohibit guns or whether people could continue to carry concealed weapons on their return home after an evacuation order is lifted.
Democrats objected to increasing the number of armed people roaming the streets without concealed-weapons permits during a time of crisis. They added that obtaining a concealed-carry permit, which requires firearms training, is readily available.
Tampa Democrat Rep. Ed Narain, a concealed-carry permit holder, expressed concerns about "unintended consequences" he likened to incidents he said have been tied to the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law.
"Image you're an African-American father, and husband, who is securing his own family in an evacuation situation," Narain said. "While driving out of town you see someone in need of help. And you decide you're going to assist them. But this person, who is in clear distress, sees you coming towards them and they feel threatened. Thinking you could potentially have ill intentions, they decide to fire that weapon that they don't have a conceal weapons permit for, that they don't handle very often, and they don't have any real training on."
But Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, called arguments against the bill "preposterous" and "ridiculous."
"The majority of Democratic colleagues want to disarm law-abiding citizens in a time of need," Artiles declared. "The criminals will always have their weapons…Did the criminal take a safety class? Did the criminal get a license? No, this is to defend your family. This is to defend your property, including the food you prepared. Because if you don't have a weapon in a time of need, when a police officer or cell tower is not working, guess what, the person with a weapon is going to take your food. And that's a reality. It's survival of the fittest when our infrastructure has crumbled."