Floridians who have concealed weapons permits would be allowed to openly carry firearms and Tasers under a bill filed in the Florida Legislature this week.
The bill would also allow lawsuits to be filed against city and county officials if they interfere with a Floridian’s right to openly carry a firearm. It is just one of several gun rights bills that will be considered in the legislative session that begins in January 2016.
Other bills would:
•Allow concealed carry permit holders to bring guns on college campuses. A similar bill passed the House last session but was killed in a Senate committee. This year’s version passed committees in both chambers on Wednesday.
•Allow certain gun owners to bring guns on K-12 campuses. As with the college campus bill, this bill passed the House but not the Senate last year. It would let retired or active police or military be armed and act as school safety designees.
Ban mandatory minimum sentencing for justifiable use of force. This bill is largely a response to the case of Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman sentenced to 20 years after firing a shot at her estranged husband. The bill would require judges to ignore the state’s 10-20-Life mandatory minimum sentencing law if “The defendant had a good faith belief that the use or threatened use of force was justifiable.” After a plea deal, Alexander was released earlier this year after three years in prison.
•Put the burden of proof on the state in Stand Your Ground hearings. Florida is unusual among states in that it allows judges to dismiss self-defense cases before they ever go to trial in so-called Stand Your Ground pretrial hearings. However, defendants must prove they should have immunity from prosecution. Under this bill, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant should not be granted immunity.
Taken together, these new laws would represent a major shift for gun rights in Florida, one of five states to ban open carry. The others are Illinois, New York, South Carolina and Texas, and the Texas ban will be lifted as of Jan. 1, 2016.
Opposition and support for some the bills is still forming. But the two sides of the K-12 and college campus bills are already well-defined.
Last year, the campus-carry bill died after unanimous opposition by university presidents and chiefs of police as well as widespread opposition by faculty and students. University administrators say allowing guns on campus will make students less safe, not more.
“What we do in a campus environment is stimulate and sometime provoke the students who are on our campuses in order for them to learn,” Tallahassee Community College President Jim Murdaugh told the House panel Wednesday. “We cause them to challenge what they believe, and sometimes that results in friction between faculty and students. The idea of having someone armed in that kind of environment … is not something that leads, in my estimation, likely to good outcomes.”
But state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, who sponsored the Senate bill, argued in favor of it based on constitutional rights. “I don’t feel like your constitutional rights should stop at a line in the sand,” he said.
The K-12 school safety bill faced similar conflicts. During the last legislative session, a Sun Sentinel survey of every county school superintendent in the state found only one – from DeSoto County –who supported the bill.
“Receiving additional funding to ensure that every school has a school resource officer is the best strategy for school safety,” said Broward schools spokesperson Tracy Clark on Wednesday.
But state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who sponsored the bill this year and last, said it was about providing safety to schools that did not have such resources.
“My bill would put a stringent training requirement in and [concealed carriers] would have to be former law enforcement or former military,” Steube said.
State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who filed the open-carry bill Monday, found a Senate sponsor Wednesday — his father, state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. If their legislation passes, it would go into effect Oct. 1, 2016 and would only apply to Floridians who have a concealed weapons permit.
According to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 1,430,234 of these permits have been issued as of Aug. 31, 2015.
The large number of permits means Florida boasts more than any other state, but on a per capita basis, the Sunshine State quickly falls below at least half a dozen less-populous states such as Alabama and South Dakota.