At a hearing of the House Constitutional Rights, Rule of Law, and Government Operations Subcommittee held Tuesday for HB-543: Concealed Carry of Weapons and Firearms Without a License, seven amendments offered by Democratic committee members were offered, heard, and quickly shot down, and dozens of Floridians pleaded with the committee to add open carry to the bill.
HB 543, which has also been described as “unlicensed concealed carry” removes the requirement for Floridians to obtain a Concealed Weapon Firearm License, or CWFL, before carrying a concealed handgun. The bill does not change the prohibitions or exceptions for open carry in the state.
Rep. Charles “Chuck” Brannan III, who sponsored the legislation with Rep. Bobby Payne said his bill “eliminates the fees and wait times for law-abiding Floridians who want to carry a concealed weapon or firearm for self-defense.”
Brannan pointed out that HB 543 is strongly supported by law enforcement: 18 of 20 State Attorneys in Florida and 60 of 67 Florida Sheriffs support the bill.
“The Second Amendment guarantees that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” Brannan said. “At least 25 other states including our neighbors Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia authorize their citizens to carry firearms without requiring licensing by the government. With this bill, Florida has an opportunity to join these states, without first having to obtain government permission.”
Only Democrats on the committee offered amendments to the bill, all of which failed.
Rep. Lindsay Michelle Cross offered an amendment that would require anyone who “opts out” and carries a concealed firearm without a CWFL to obtain at least $100,000 worth of insurance. Cross’ amendment failed.
Rep. Jervonte “Tae” Edmonds proposed an amendment that would bar concealed-carry in grocery stores, gas stations, music venues, or any religious institution. Edmonds’ amendment failed.
Rep. Katherine Waldron offered an amendment banning homemade firearms, which she called “ghost guns.” Her amendment failed.
Rep. Dotie Joseph proposed four amendments. Her first amendment had six parts.
Concealed carriers would need to do the following:
- Take a firearm safety class and pass a written exam.
- Provide a written statement from a Florida physician certifying they are mentally fit and free of drug abuse.
- Pass a mental health exam and drug screen.
- Take and pass a one-day firearm class that includes a live-fire test.
- Establish secure storage for guns and ammunition, which would be inspected by a law enforcement officer.
- Submit to fingerprinting and a background check.
This amendment failed.
Rep. Joseph’s second amendment would ban open carry at concert venues and polling places. (Under current law, open carry at polling places is already prohibited, as is concealed carry at polling places.)
“You can’t open carry and go around trying to intimidate people,” she said. “I’m just trying to keep people safe.”
This amendment failed.
Rep. Joseph’s third proposed amendment would prohibit guns in cars, which she said would prevent firearm theft. It too failed.
Rep. Joseph’s fourth amendment would require background checks for private sales or when a firearm is loaned to family members for hunting or recreation. It failed.
More than 120 people completed appearance cards requesting to testify before the committee about HB 543.
Speaking on behalf of the Florida Sheriffs Association, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said, “We support this bill.”
“This bill doesn’t do anything against public safety,” Gualtieri said. “It doesn’t increase the number of guns on the street. This bill protects people’s right to protect themselves. Florida Sheriffs strongly support this bill.”
Bob White said the legislation is not “constitutional carry,” since it prohibits open carry. “It does not eliminate prohibitions against campus carry or Red Flag laws,” White said.
Art Thomm, State Director for the National Rifle Association, spoke on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of NRA members in Florida.
“We stand in support of this legislation,” Thomm said. He was not alone. Representatives from both Gun Owners of America and the National Association of Gun Rights said they support the bill, adding that the legislation needs to be amended to add open carry.
Eric Friday, general counsel for Florida Carry, Inc., pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court noted three times that the “Second Amendment is not a second-class right.”
“Anyone virtuous enough to vote is virtuous enough to carry a firearm,” Friday said. “People have been denied their rights and I have had to sure the Department of Agriculture under previous administrations – administrations – to get their rights to get license. People have waited over a year because the Department of Agriculture denied their license and denied hearings on their license.”
He pointed out the racist roots of gun control laws in Florida.
Said Friday: “It’s time for Jim Crow to die, and this is a step toward that.”
The bill was voted favorably out of committee after a three-hour hearing.
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