TALLAHASSEE - Gun owners in Florida may soon be able to carry concealed firearms without a license.
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee backed a proposal that combines allowing people to carry concealed firearms without licenses and efforts to improve school safety, despite Democratic arguments that easing gun restrictions would increase violence.
A Senate committee on Monday approved a similar measure, with some gun-rights groups --- which want people to be able to openly carry firearms in most public places --- calling the proposal "too weak."
The Republican-dominated House committee voted 16-7 to approve the House version (HB 543), which would allow people to carry concealed guns without going through state licensure, background screening and required training. It also would provide money for school hardening and take other steps to address school safety, including coordinating threat-assessment services, allowing armed "guardians" in private schools and calling for firearm-detection dogs at schools.
With Tuesday's vote, the House bill is ready to go to the full House after the annual legislative session starts March 7.
Bill sponsor Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny, said the proposal would allow people to decide for themselves about carrying concealed firearms for self-defense, while also providing a deterrent to mass shootings through such things as the expansion of school guardians.
"This bill will simply allow Floridians to carry their firearm without the red tape and expense of a government license," Brannan said.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday voted 5-3 along party lines to approve the Senate version (SB 150).
Both versions have drawn fire from people who favor gun restrictions — and from some Second Amendment advocates.
Alexis Dorman, a Florida State University sophomore from Orlando and member of the Florida Chapter of Students Demand Action, said allowing people to carry guns without licenses will exacerbate gun violence.
"Kids today are watching victims the same ages as themselves die of gun violence at restaurants, schools, concert venues, shopping malls, parks, neighborhood gatherings, sporting complexes and, worst of all, inside their own homes," Dorman said. "This puts into perspective just how much gun violence has impacted an entire generation."
But groups of gun-rights advocates --- including Gun Owners of America, Florida Carry and Florida Gun Rights --- pulled their support from the bills and disputed lawmakers' characterization of the measures as "constitutional carry." They called the bills "too weak" because people wouldn't be able to openly carry firearms in public.
"This bill does change nothing in the grand scheme of things. We were promised constitutional carry," Luis Valdez of Gun Owners of America said Tuesday.
"It's a tell-tale sign that it's not only bad legislation but it's political theater," Democrat Jason Pizzo of state Senate District 37, said. "For me it's not about mass shooting. It's a mass of idiots. What I mean by that is somebody doesn't know how to load a firearm, how to properly keep it secure, how to place the safety on even if the firearm has a safety. We're going to have an untold number of accidents."
"How can anyone argue that having more guns in more places like malls, like schools, like churches is going to make anyone safer," asked Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Senior Advisor for Giffords, a group against gun violence, said. "It will result in any argument potentially turning into a deadly shooting."
As of Jan. 31, nearly 2.63 million people had Florida concealed-weapons licenses, which are issued by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
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