Florida Looks to Expand Concealed-Carry Rights, Regardless of Concerns

Florida legislators are advancing bills to remove some concealed-carry requirements, despite opposition from Democrats, gun-safety advocates, some law-enforcement officers and university students who say they’re concerned it would lead to more gun violence. File photo: Alex Traksel, Shutter Stock, licensed.

TALLAHASSEE, FL – In a Republican supermajority, Florida lawmakers are advancing bills that would remove mandatory training and fees to carry concealed weapons. So-called “permitless carry” has raised alarming new concerns among many Democrats, gun-control advocates and some law-enforcement officials.

Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil said he doesn’t support the measures because interacting with people carrying weapons becomes much more difficult for his deputies. He pointed to an ongoing challenge within law enforcement of distinguishing between “good guys” and “bad guys” with guns.

“Trying to make those distinctions in the heat of a situation that you’re responding to just changes the dynamic of our interactions with citizens, exponentially,” he said, “and so I just don’t know the answer to those questions.”

Second Amendment advocates also are critical of the bills, for not going far enough to allow “open carry” of guns in the state, which some describe as “constitutional carry.” Currently, to get a concealed-carry permit, a Florida resident must have undergone firearms training, along with clearing a background check that shows they aren’t a convicted felon and don’t fall under a host of other restrictions.

State Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, who’s sponsoring the Senate bill, said he believes the right to carry a concealed firearm should be “without a government permission slip.”

McNeil said he supports dropping the fees to acquire permits, but thinks the training and everything else should remain in place.

“Our constitutional right to carry a weapon, we should have that without having to pay for it, and we can achieve that simply by dropping the fee,” he said. “The other things don’t seem to bear any logic, from a community perspective.”

The House version of the bill includes school safety measures, such as expanding the school guardian program to allow private-school staff to be armed. It would also establish a program for firearm-sniffing dogs on school campuses and $1.5 million in grants so law-enforcement agencies can provide free gun-safety courses to the public.

Florida currently has 2.6 million concealed-weapons permits.

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