Florida Politics

Gun advocates win victories in Florida House, Senate

A woman wears a Smith & Wesson pistol in a belly band, which can be worn under the shirt to hold a concealed weapon.
A woman wears a Smith & Wesson pistol in a belly band, which can be worn under the shirt to hold a concealed weapon. Miami Herald File

— Florida gun rights activists’ had a victorious day in the Capitol as the Republican-controlled Legislature considered two St. Petersburg lawmakers’ bills, advancing one through the Senate and shooting down the other.

The Senate endorsed a bill allowing lawful gun owners to carry a weapon while evacuating in an emergency, even if they don’t have a concealed carry permit. Later in the day, a House panel voted down a Democrat’s proposal to set more limits on shooting a gun on residential property.

In a legislative session that has involved long discussions about the role firearms should play on public school and college campuses and in the wake of a natural disaster, the Senate’s concealed carry legislation was the first gun bill to pass either chamber. It gained support from all 25 Republicans and four of the 14 Democrats.

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who sponsored the bill, and other supporters argue that allowing concealed carry of weapons in the first 48 hours after a mandatory evacuation is necessary so gun owners aren’t arrested on felony charges, something they say happened in Louisiana as people fled Hurricane Katrina. Carrying a gun, they say, is preferable to leaving it at home, where it could be stolen by looters.

“This is about this incredibly rare instance, this incredibly tailored instance, when people are fleeing for their lives,” Brandes said on the floor Tuesday. “And yet Florida statute today says if they take that weapon with them and they carry it in a certain manner, they can be charged with a third-degree felony.”

Opponents have said that approval of the bill poses a public safety risk by increasing the number of guns in shelters and in public, especially given the high stress of an emergency.

“I do have issues when it comes to highly emotional periods of time,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. “When people are displaced, when children are involved, when families are involved and people are living in close quarters.”

Gun advocates scored their second win of the day in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Only one Republican, Rep. Chris Latvala of Clearwater, voted with Democrats in a failed attempt to limit rights to shoot on residential property.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, filed the bill in response to a St. Petersburg man, Joseph Carannante, who angered neighbors and others with plans to set up a gun range in his backyard earlier this year.

Under current law, it’s legal to fire a weapon on residential property, unless it’s done “recklessly or negligently.” Rouson argued that the language isn’t specific enough and that laws giving the state power to set gun policy make it risky for local officials to prosecute people in cases like Carannante’s. After a torrent of negative feedback, he dismantled his range in favor of a membership at a commercial gun range.

“This bill is not an attempt to abrogate, curtail or restrict in any way a citizen’s right to bear arms,” Rouson said. “This bill only talks about the common sense application of when that firearm can be shot.”

Marion Hammer, lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, called Rouson’s bill unnecessary and said existing law goes far enough to prohibit shooting in backyards.

“This bill attempts to fix a nonexistent problem,” she said. “Nothing in state law allows shooting ranges in dense residential neighborhoods.”

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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