The Florida State Legislature convenes Tuesday, and one of the more intensely partisan and debated proposals for new gun laws is coming to this session titled HB 543.
Democrats are using a tragic school shooting to try to shut the legislation down in favor of more gun control, and Republicans, including one top Sheriff, say that criminals have guns and don’t follow the rules.
Supporters have dubbed the proposed legislation “constitutional carry.”
If HB 543 passes, which is likely given the 2–1 advantage Republicans hold over Democrats in both the Florida House and Senate, Florida would be the 26th state to allow people to carry concealed loaded guns without a permit.
But some gun rights advocates would go further, asking that people be allowed to display loaded guns in public places openly.
Gov. Ron DeSantis was recently asked by Luis Valdes, Florida director of Gun Owners of America if he would support such a provision to HB 543.
“Yeah, absolutely,” responded DeSantis.
However, DeSantis doesn’t believe lawmakers would approve an “open carry” addition to the proposed law.
Although the terms constitutional carry, permitless carry, and unrestricted carry are often used interchangeably, definitions of the terms differ, according to USConcealedCarry.us:
Constitutional carry: Constitutional carry means that the state’s law does not prohibit citizens who can legally possess a firearm from carrying handguns (openly and in a concealed manner); thus no state permit is required.
Sometimes, constitutional carry may be conditions such as in those states with no laws prohibiting the open carry of a handgun but which require a permit to carry the handgun concealed.
Permitless carry: Permitless carry includes constitutional carry states as well as states where an individual must meet certain qualifications, e.g., no DUIs in the last 10 years, in order to legally carry (Tennessee).
Some states are fully unrestricted, meaning no permit is required for open or concealed carry. Others allow the open carry of a firearm/or handgun without a permit but require a permit for concealment.
On March 5, a Florida Republican close to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis hinted to a journalist that permit-less ownership and concealed carry of firearms – also known as constitutional carry – could become law in Florida in as little as three weeks.
Seen on video, as reported by Toby Hazlewood, “Republican Representative Jessica Baker – who was elected to serve by voters in Florida’s 17th District in the November 2022 midterm elections – was quoted as saying that gun controls in the Sunshine State could be further relaxed with three weeks. While her estimate may not come to fruition, it’s the latest indication of the law changing in Florida in favor of legal gun owners who want fewer restrictions.”
Hazlewood also reported, “It also means that a promise made by Governor Ron DeSantis – to pass constitutional carry into law – could come to pass. If it did, Florida would join over 20 other states that have passed the law in some form. Her impassioned rhetoric, and optimistic promises about how quickly such a fundamental law could change, will likely go down well with Republicans. Many Democrats, however, are unlikely to share her enthusiasm or optimism.”
Watch the interview:
The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported more details about the potential new gun laws:
Here’s a look at what HB 543 would do and what people are saying:
The bill, proposed by Rep. Charles Brannan, R-Macclenny, eliminates the longstanding requirements for a concealed weapon license that includes fees, a criminal background check and completion of a firearms training course.
“I just don’t feel that you ought to have to jump through these government hurdles to exercise your rights to what the U.S. Constitution and the Florida Constitution says is the right to bear arms. This bill simply removes those hurdles and makes it easier for law-abiding citizens,” Brannan said.
The News-Journal emailed 10 local law enforcement department chiefs on Monday for their thoughts on the proposed legislation and the amendment favored by gun rights groups.
So far, only Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood responded and said the bill will pass regardless of his feelings.
“My focus is how to legally and safely police our community and keep my deputies safe while doing so,” Chitwood said Monday.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina voiced his opposition to the bill on “The Problem with John Stewart,” which streams on AppleTV+.
“Somewhere along the line, we stopped listening to law enforcement, the men and women who patrol the streets every night at risk of their own lives,” Mina said. “Go ask the street cop what he or she thinks about encountering lots of people with a gun stuck in their waistband. It’s not going to make our communities safer. It’s going to make them more dangerous.”
DeSantis, House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and the Florida Sheriffs Association have endorsed the proposed legislation.
Opponents have called the bill dangerous and shortsighted, especially considering two of the worst mass shootings in the country — Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — occurred in Florida.
Polk Sheriff Grady had notable comments on the Parkland shooting saying that everyone failed, and on the topic of new gun laws, he said it was important to remember that “had there been people on that campus with a firearm and trained in how to use it, there would not have been a massacre.”