State Politics

Plan to allow concealed guns in Florida airport terminals faces dim prospects

Mike Weinstein, director of training and security at the National Armory gun store and gun range, shows how to safely put a Ruger 1911hand gun in and out of a holster during a concealed weapons permit class, Jan. 5, 2016, in Pompano Beach.
Mike Weinstein, director of training and security at the National Armory gun store and gun range, shows how to safely put a Ruger 1911hand gun in and out of a holster during a concealed weapons permit class, Jan. 5, 2016, in Pompano Beach. AP

A proposal to let some gun-owners carry concealed weapons in Florida airport terminals was approved by its first Senate committee on Tuesday, but its chances at becoming law this year are nearly impossible because a House version has yet to be considered.

SB 1500 by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, is among several gun bills under consideration by the Republican-led Legislature this year that aim to expand gun-owners’ rights and specifically those of the 1.5 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida.

Simpson said the legislation is needed because airport terminals “could become more of a target” for terrorists and criminals, since they are among 15 areas codified in state law where even concealed-weapons permit-holders can’t carry weapons. “Sterile” areas of airports — those past security checkpoints and controlled by the federal Transportation Security Administration — would remain a prohibited area for weapons.

The bill received initial approval from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday by a 3-2 vote, along party lines with Democrats in opposition.

But the House companion to Simpson’s proposal — HB 4051 by Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia — is all but dead because it has not been heard by any of the three committees to which it has been. It awaits a hearing before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, but that panel held its final meeting of the 2016 session two weeks ago.

“We’re continuing to work to try to get the bill heard and to try to pass what we believe is a good policy,” Raburn told the Herald/Times.

Simpson said the legislation is intended to let “law-abiding citizens” carry concealed when they visit airports, such as when dropping off or picking up family and friends or when dining or shopping in commercial areas that are outside security checkpoints.

As well, “the bill is needed to make sure our citizens have the right to protect themselves in the event that we have someone try to murder a lot of folks in an airport,” Simpson told reporters after the hearing.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, questioned why lawmakers would want to “introduce more weaponry into airport terminals.”

“They need to be carrying their concealed weapons to walk their person to the gate because of terrorists?” Gibson asked.

The Florida Airports Council — which represents 19 commercial airports and more than 75 general aviation airports, including those in Tampa, Miami and Fort Lauderdale — has similar concerns and opposes the proposal.

Also, “if there’s incidents, law enforcement officers would have concerns about who’s carrying weapons and who’s not,” council representative Michael Stewart said.

Simpson’s bill has two more committee stops in the Senate. It next goes to the Judiciary Committee, where chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, hasn’t heard two of the most high-profile gun bills this session: ones that would allow some gun-owners to carry openly in most places and to carry concealed on public college and university campuses.

Diaz de la Portilla confirmed Tuesday the open-carry bill is dead for this session, and he said also he won’t grant a hearing for Simpson’s bill, either.

“On all of these gun bills, I don’t believe any of them are necessary,” he said. “They could result in unintended consequences. I think we need to prioritize in our committee, as far as what we hear. We can’t hear every bill that’s referred to us.”

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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